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  Spring Harbor Hospital News

New organization aims to improve mental healthcare access, quality, and cost

February 27, 2009 - A new organization has been formed to better coordinate fragmented mental health services and speed treatment and recovery for residents of 11 Maine counties.  Called Maine Mental Health Partners, the nonprofit will build a network of treatment providers that will coordinate their clinical approaches and treatment pathways to better serve those in need of mental healthcare in the MaineHealth service areas of Androscoggin, Cumberland, Franklin, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Oxford, Sagadahoc, Somerset, Waldo, and York Counties.

According to Maine Mental Health Partners' Chairman Richard Carriuolo, consumers can expect the outcomes of building this network to include "improved access to treatment, safer and better coordinated care across provider organizations, and reduced time spent in intensive care settings, such as emergency rooms and hospital units."  In addition, he says, Maine Mental Health Partners will offer partner agencies shared administrative services, such as accounting, billing, and information technology, as well as group purchasing programs for insurance coverage, energy, and supplies.  "We expect this approach will represent substantial savings for many agencies," Carriuolo remarks, "and allow them to focus on delivering their high-quality clinical services."

Maine Mental Health Partners' Vice President of Medical Affairs Girard Robinson, MD, says the idea behind the new organization is "enabling Maine people to access the right type of mental health treatment at the right time, in the right place, and at the right cost."  He says coordinating individual agencies within a coherent network of providers will increase satisfaction for both consumers and caregivers because treatment plans and electronic medical records will ultimately be consistent at every point within the network.  "The result will be a higher-quality, safer system of care that saves consumers time and substantially reduces redundancy," Dr. Robinson says.

Dennis King, president of Maine Mental Health Partners and CEO of the Spring Harbor Hospital psychiatric facility in Westbrook, says such a network also offers significant savings potential for individuals and payers, particularly given the current utilization of emergency rooms and hospital units by those in psychiatric crisis.  "If folks could receive appropriate services sooner, whether in the home or in some other community setting," he says, "they might be able to avoid the mental health crises that often lead to hospitalization."

Maine Mental Health Partners' Trustee Anne Pringle, former mayor of Portland and a longtime mental health advocate, agrees.  "If there were a coordinated system of providers working together to match each individual's need to an easily accessible and appropriate level of clinical service," she says, "it would significantly reduce waits in emergency rooms by people in crisis, as well as unnecessarily long hospital stays."

Dr. Robinson, who is also the Chief of Psychiatry at Maine Medical Center, concurs. He says that over the past four months, the average length of stay for Maine Medical Center emergency room patients awaiting psychiatric hospitalization was more than 6 hours. Over that same period, the average length of stay at Spring Harbor Hospital was between 8 and 10 days. "Though these lengths of stay are within national averages," Dr. Robinson notes, "needing to wait this long for entry into the next appropriate level of care is frustrating for the individuals and families involved. We believe the Maine Mental Health Partners' network approach will help."

Established in November 2008, Maine Mental Health Partners counts among its current members the 100-bed Spring Harbor Hospital and Spring Harbor Community Services, which delivers nonprofit outpatient mental health programs in Greater Portland and psychiatric management and administrative services to Maine Medical CenterSouthern Maine Medical Center in Biddeford, and PenBay Medical Center in Rockland, among others.  It is also home to the state's only residency training program in General Psychiatry and the only Child Fellowship program north of Boston for physicians training to be child and adolescent psychiatrists. Maine Mental Health Partners additionally oversees groundbreaking national research  funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to prevent schizophrenia and other serious and debilitating mental illnesses.
 
Integrated Behavioral Healthcare, a private psychiatry practice in Scarborough, is a recent addition to the Maine Mental Health Partners network. Chief Executive and Medical Officer Gordon H. Clark, Jr., MD, MDiv, DFAPA, CPE, FACPE, says membership made sense for him. "Over 12 years, I had grown the practice to a point where it was successful, had a good reputation, and excellent, quality clinicians," Dr. Clark says. "I sought out a partner to provide the support in finance, human resources, marketing, and strategic planning that would take the practice to the next level. I was also looking for economies of scale, leverage in negotiating payer fee schedules, and help managing the risk of growing the business on my own. From my perspective, membership in this larger organization has been fabulous."

Carriuolo says Maine Mental Health Partners was the brainchild of the board and senior staff of Spring Harbor Hospital and Maine Medical Center's Department of Psychiatry, which have had an integrated administrative and clinical management structure for the past 10 years.

"The trustees, several of whom are family members of a person with mental illness, acknowledged that while Spring Harbor and Maine Medical Center have an outstanding nucleus of psychiatric treatment, training, and research programs, there are still gaps in the delivery system that prevent consumers from receiving needed care in a timely, coordinated manner," Carriuolo explains. "After more than a year of planning, all agreed that partnering with other providers, both locally and regionally, was the best, most appropriate way to help fill those gaps."

Among the service gaps identified by the trustees and staff were case management, crisis stabilization, and residential treatment. "These are priority gaps to fill in our service continuum because they are helpful in averting or shortening hospital and emergency room stays," says Dr. Robinson. "Our current member organizations have little, if any, expertise in delivering these services, so we will reach out to agencies that do."

According to Carriuolo, there has been a fair level of interest expressed by agencies wanting to learn more about the Maine Mental Health Partners model.  "We have had several meetings with providers already," he says, "and we anticipate discussing the possibilities of partnership with other organizations in the coming months."

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Maine Mental Health Partners is located at 78 Atlantic Place in South Portland. For more information, please call 207-842-7700.

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