agencies combine their resources
Health Partners hopes to make the system more accessible and
By MEREDITH GOAD,
Staff Writer for Portland Press Herald March 7, 2009
When patients at Community Counseling Center
need a consultation with a psychiatrist, finding an available doctor
for them can be a challenge. The nonprofit agency is too
small to afford its own psychiatrist, and
it doesn't need one full time, anyway.
But soon the center's staff will have access
to the state's largest pool of psychiatrists. On Friday, the small
agency on Forest Avenue announced that it is the first to join Maine
Mental Health Partners, a new nonprofit subsidiary
of MaineHealth that is working to connect
mental health agencies in 11 Maine counties.
Two years in the making, Maine Mental Health
Partners is designed to make services in the state more efficient
and less costly
by bringing community agencies and MaineHealth hospitals
that provide mental care under one umbrella.
The new organization, announced earlier this
week, will share administrative services such as accounting and
payroll with the community agencies that join it, as well as
offering them greater group purchasing power for essentials such as
energy and insurance coverage. In addition to saving money on
operating costs, participants will also gain access to a whole new
network of health care professionals for their
clients and a common standard of care.
"Right now, a parent (of a youth needing
mental health services) might literally sometimes be trying to call
this place and that place," said Leslie Clark Brancato, president
and CEO of Community Counseling Center. "It's hard enough to
negotiate the system if you're not in crisis. But if you're in the
middle of a very painful time in your life, trying to
figure out which organization does which service
is a very hard thing to do."
For its part, Community Counseling Center
will bring services to the table that the new organization does not
yet have, said Dennis King, president of Maine Mental Health
Partners. "We look forward to their case management services helping
youth with developmental disabilities leave the hospital sooner," he said,
"or better yet, keep them from needing
to be hospitalized in the first place."
The coordinated-care arrangement is expected
to slash emergency room waiting times and reduce the length of
hospitalizations, organizers say. The goal is to provide
cost-effective care at a time when mental health
agencies are watching their budgets shrink because
of state cutbacks and the sour economy.
At Community Counseling Center, for example,
reimbursements from MaineCare for outpatient psychotherapy have
fallen by 40 percent over the past six years, Brancato said. That's
on top of lost general fund revenue.
Mental Health Partners could help take some
of the sting out of those cuts.
Clients coming to the counseling center
won't notice much obvious change after the arrangement is finalized,
Brancato said. The center will keep its name, management will remain
the same, and clients will keep the
same therapists they've been seeing all along.
Community mental health agencies have to pay
a fee ranging from one-half of 1 percent to 1 percent of their
budgets to join Maine Mental Health Partners, but it's estimated that
belonging to Maine Mental Health Partners could
trim their costs by about a third.
Savings in operating costs and improvements
in patient care will come in part through efficiencies such as
streamlining medical forms and taking advantage of electronic
medical records, according to Dr. Girard Robinson, chief of
psychiatry at Maine Medical Center,
who will serve as vice president of
medical affairs at Maine Mental Health Partners.
"Individuals sometimes get a number of
assessments before they get to the level of care that they need,"
Robinson said. "This is a chance to eliminate some of those
redundancies and to build common standards
and forms, and hopefully make it much
more navigable for patients and their families."
The electronic medical records will help
psychiatrists keep track of exactly what medications their patients
are taking, which ones they've taken in the past, and which have
worked and which have not. A greater reliance on evidence-based medicine
will make it easier for doctors to
see how well a treatment actually worked.
Evidence-based medicine has already taken
hold in the medical arena, but it has been slower to catch on in the
mental health field. For certain conditions, however, there is
scientific evidence that some
types of therapies work better than others,
such as cognitive behavioral therapy for depression.
"It's been a challenge in the mental health
world to implement evidence-based models in a systemic fashion,"
Robinson said, "but I think we're moving quickly in that direction.
And I think it's a good direction, because it's important
for the taxpayers to know that they're
getting quality for what they're paying for."
Carol Carothers, executive director of the
Maine chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said she
hasn't yet heard all the details about Maine Mental Health Partners,
but she is optimistic about the new system. "Anything that would
make the incoherency
of the existing system more coherent, I
think is a good idea," she said.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted
at 791-6332 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2009 by The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday
Telegram. All rights reserved.
Maine Mental Health Partners
is located at 78 Atlantic Place in South
Portland. For more information, please call