Despite Promises, Arizona Behavioral Health Cos. Cut Patient Services
This summer five Arizona companies took over a dozen New Mexico mental health agencies accused of Medicaid fraud. Clients were assured that there would be no disruptions in their care. But those assurances are withering at five key sites.
The head of the Arizona provider Valle del Sol said via email that he had to lay off staff in New Mexico due to revenue shortfalls – he refused to give the total number who lost their jobs, though. Three counselors, IT staff, receptionists and bookkeepers at its Los Lunas clinic were let go. Counselor Ed Church had more than 100 behavioral health clients until last Thursday when he was fired and his clients’ appointments were cancelled.
Church says he is worried about those patients because they didn’t get guidance about where to go for medications or therapy. Some of them have serious mental health challenges such as drug addiction or schizophrenia.
“Other clients had just gotten out of the hospital, or had been in and out of the hospital because of suicidal threats and ideation and in two cases – attempts, and they need to be seen on a weekly basis,” Church stated.
He added that counselors had been doing patient intakes by hand because after eight weeks they still had no computers, and even more surprising he said, there was no tissue paper provided in the ladies restroom used by patients.
When asked how his information squares with promises Valle del Sol made to patients, Church responded, "We'll, it doesn’t. Simply put I think they’re abandoning clients, and why would you lay people off from the system who were in fact people that were producing on behalf of the client.”
Valle del Sol’s Kurt Sheppard lists 2.5 staff for every client at each of its five clinics in New Mexico. But former providers argue that in Los Lunas those two staff are now serving close to 400 patients, not 99 as Sheppard claims.
Advocates worry with fewer providers straining an already ailing system, more patients are going without the care they need.
Meanwhile, a letter sent to employees who went to work for Valle del Sol after the company took over Valencia Counseling Services in Los Lunas and Easter Seals/El Mirador in Santa Fe, ordered employees not to discuss any matters with reporters.
Valle del Sol and four other Arizona companies contracted for $17-million dollars by the Susana Martinez administration will continue to be paid by the State after their contracts end December 31, 2013. Martinez staff have confirmed that all five will be paid to provide services under managed care organizations that will be a part of Centennial Care - the administration's revamp of Medicaid, beginning in January.