Summit County selects University of Utah as new provider for mental health services |

Summit County selects University of Utah as new provider for mental health services

Summit County is set to usher in a new era of providing mental health and substance abuse services to its residents.

The Summit County Council Thursday selected University of Utah Health Plans as the county’s new health care provider during a special meeting. The University of Utah was selected over another provider, Optum.

Elected leaders and health officials have placed a greater emphasis on providing access to mental health and substance abuse services within the last few years.

A critical component of that is the entity that provides state-mandated services on behalf of the county to Medicaid, uninsured and non-Medicaid residents. The state’s 13 Health Departments are required to provide services such as substance abuse treatment and inpatient care to its residents.

The County Council’s selection of University of Utah Health Plans ends the county’s nearly 25-year partnership with Valley Behavioral Health. Valley Behavioral Health’s most recent contract, entered into in 2003, is set to expire at the end of August. Officials said Valley Behavioral Health’s model as a primary health provider no longer met the growing needs for services in the county.

Summit County issued a request for proposals from new providers in January. Optum and University of Utah Health Plans were selected as the two finalists. Elected officials interviewed representatives for both providers earlier this month.

University of Utah operates its services through a network model, which officials say could help significantly reduce patients’ wait times for access to essential services.

“We will have new resources that will be available to us,” said Aaron Newman, Summit County’s mental health and substance abuse coordinator. “That will help us hone in on different objectives. One of the areas where we will definitely see an improvement is with our crisis services.”

The new model will also allow the county to integrate behavioral and physical health, allowing providers to take someone’s overall health into consideration, Newman said. He emphasized how important that service will be to residents.

A committee comprising elected and health officials came up with the recommendation to select University of Utah based on several factors, including the organization’s ability to provide at least $300,000 in additional state Medicaid dollars to Summit County as well as a commitment to provide a shared school psychologist for the North Summit and South Summit school districts.

Representatives speaking on behalf of University of Utah earlier this month described years of experience as an in-state agency with a vast network of services, including many providers in Summit County or willing to relocate to the area.

The county will award $2.3 million for the first year, prorated over 10 months. The funds will come from the county, state and Medicaid.

Rich Bullough, Summit County Health Department director, said Wednesday he fully supported the decision to select University of Utah Health Plans as the county’s new provider.

Newman said the decision to select a new provider is a critical step in the county’s efforts to improve access to mental health and substance abuse services.

“I never could have envisioned this is where we would be two years ago,” he said. “This will have a huge change for us in terms of where we are heading.”

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