Mental health systems merge
Written by ALEX ASPACHER, Sentinel Staff Writer
Wednesday, 11 June 2014 08:31
A longtime mental health and addiction agency in Wood County now stands on more solid ground after announcing a merger with a larger Toledo company.
Behavioral Connections' partnership with Harbor will give the former a stronger financial footing as smaller health care agencies face increasing challenges and changes, said Richard Goldberg, CEO of Behavioral Connections.
The Adult Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board contracts with Behavioral Connections to offer addiction and mental health services in Wood County. While diagnoses become more complex and demand for those services continues to rise, funding has remained flat, Goldberg said.
"It's hard to keep up with all of that because our resources don't continue to increase. The need for what we do increases, but not our resources."
As far as Harbor's financial support, Goldberg replied: "That's A-number-one in terms of the reasons."
"I think that the forces that are changing health care will overpower small organizations, and to keep those services viable ... I think it was good to form a strategic alliance with another entity."
Goldberg said Behavioral Connections has been searching for a partner agency for about four years. If it hadn't found one, clients would have eventually endured "more than a few" cuts to services, he said.
"I don't know that we could survive three or four years from now the way we are."
Goldberg cautioned that while Behavioral Connections is giving up some administrative autonomy, clients shouldn't fret over how the changes could affect them.
"People are going to see very little change. Our services are going to be exactly as they are, although in some cases, better.
"The way we're doing this merger keeps our presence here, keeps our name here, keeps our identity here, but gives us the strength and viability that goes with being part of something much bigger."
It remains to be seen how exactly the merger will affect Behavioral Connections' plan to develop the former Varsity Lanes site on South Main Street in Bowling Green, which the agency purchased last fall for more than $522,000 with eyes on consolidating its offices there. Renovations would be extensive and, combined with a new building as well, would likely cost several million dollars.
Goldberg said developing the land remains a "genuine, high-probability possibility." Architectural plans have been made, but the property could be sold if it no longer seems to fit the agency's needs. An inventory of services will be done with Harbor in the next few weeks to determine what might be added.
"At this point it's a relatively modest amount of money, and with Harbor being part of the process now, it's well covered," Goldberg said. "It's really hard to have a clear picture of what our space needs will be because we're not really sure what (services) specifically we'll add."
People in Wood County may eventually have greater access to more integrated primary care and mental health services. A link between the two is critical, as those with persistent mental illness die an average of 25 years sooner than others without it, Clemons said.
"This will enhance the overall quality of life and care for our residents who suffer from severe mental illness."
Wait-times for appointments will likely come down, as Harbor has greater ranks of psychiatrists and practitioners and is committed to bringing more doctors to Wood County, Goldberg said.
"It will not only take some of the load off of our doctors, but more importantly, people will get in quicker.
"Accessibility is really important because there's a clear relationship between how long it takes to get that appointment and whether you'll really come in and start to get help."
Clemons agreed the arrangement between the two will be mutually beneficial. While Behavioral Connections gets access to a larger budget, Harbor recently began pursuing addiction services, an area where Behavioral Connections has a wealth of experience.
Harbor already has a presence in Wood County and a working relationship with Behavioral Connections. Harbor currently offers employment services here for people with mental illness, Clemons said. There are about 350 active clients in Wood County, and about 90 have worked through the program to gain competitive employment on their own, he said.
"Their program is considered one of the best, if not the best in the state," Clemons said.
When asked if he was at all concerned about Wood County clients receiving less attention from the larger company, Clemons replied confidently, "None whatsoever."
"Harbor has an outstanding reputation for excellent clinical services," he added.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 11 June 2014 11:55