Summit County Council to choose between two providers for mental health care services
Elected officials are faced with a critical decision this month that could impact thousands of Summit County residents as they consider a new partner to provide mental health and substance abuse services to the community.
Health officials say the selection of a new provider could help significantly reduce patients’ wait times for accessing essential services and present more options. The new provider will be responsible for rendering state-mandated services on behalf of the county to residents who are uninsured or receive Medicaid. The state’s 13 Health Departments provide services such as outpatient care and psychosocial rehabilitation.
Valley Behavioral Health has been the county’s health provider for nearly 25 years. The most recent contract, entered into in 2003, is set to expire at the end of August. Summit County issued a request for proposals from new providers in January to address a growing need in services.
The Summit County Council on Wednesday interviewed the two finalists — Optum and University of Utah Health Plans. A committee that included People’s Health Clinic Director Beth Armstrong, County Council Chair Roger Armstrong, Park City Councilor Nann Worel and Ed Rutan, president of CONNECT Summit County, selected the two finalists.
Later this month, the committee will present a final recommendation to the County Council, which the panel can accept or deny. The County Council will award $2.3 million for the first year of services, prorated over 10 months. The funds will come from the county, state and Medicaid.
Both Optum, which is based in Minnesota and has offices in Salt Lake City, and University of Utah Health Care Plans operate a different model for services than what was provided under Valley Behavioral Health. Valley Behavioral Health operated as a “one-stop shop,” relying on its own ability to provide services, according to a Health Department staff report prepared in anticipation of the meeting.
Optum and University of Utah Health Care Plans would be offering a network model as a way to provide more choices and providers for patients to choose from, said Aaron Newman, the Health Department’s mental health and substance abuse coordinator. He said the network model could drastically reduce waiting periods for patients seeking services.
“We have been up to a 160-day waiting period,” he said. “We have seen that come down, but we are still at around 100 days. Availability is the key aspect of why we are looking at a network provider rather than staying with a mental health care provider. There is a reason why we have seen this be successful and this will be a huge change for our community.”
Representatives speaking on behalf of University of Utah Health Care Plans touted years of experience as an in-state agency and a vast network of services, including many providers who would be willing to relocate to Summit County.
“We have 270 Utah-based employees ready to go to work,” said Chad Westover, CEO of Health Care Plans. “The people we have are specialists in their area. They are also here and they are local. We have the depth and expertise.”
Optum has partnered with Salt Lake County for the last seven years to manage its Medicaid plan and behavioral health services, as well as providing services in 31 other states. Several letters were submitted to the county from providers, including many in Summit County, willing to render services on behalf of Optum.
“We have a lot of specific experience,” said Blaine Bergeson, vice president of business development for Optum. “We have an operating infrastructure that understands the needs and demands. We have a lot of experience and local staff doing the same work that we think Summit County needs.”
Elected officials asked several questions after both finalists completed their presentations to better understand the different services that each could provide. The County Council was initially expected to make a decision on April 17. However, that date was pushed back to April 24 to give County Councilors more time to review the proposals.
“This is a big decision and we have two great providers here,” said Chris Robinson, a County Councilor.
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.