Summit County Health Department’s contract with Valley Behavioral Health under scrutiny
When Aaron Newman joined the Summit County Health Department as the mental health and substance abuse coordinator in 2017, he realized that no one had ever performed an in-depth analysis of the Health Department’s contract with Valley Behavioral Health and the services the organization has provided to the county for nearly 15 years.
The Health Department began contracting with Valley Behavioral Health in 2003 to provide state-mandated services on behalf of the county to Medicaid, uninsured and non-Medicaid residents. The state uses a local-authority model when it comes to mental health and substance abuse that requires the 13 Health Departments to provide 10 mandated services, such as outpatient care and psychosocial rehabilitation. The services are funded through Medicaid and block grants, Newman said.
The contract with Valley Behavioral Health has given the county a significant amount of input over how those services has been delivered to residents, Newman said. In recent years, health officials have gained a better understanding of what the county’s needs are through efforts like the Mental Wellness Alliance’s strategic plan. The plan identifies the county’s mental health and substance abuse treatment needs, as well as goals for addressing them.
Health Department officials have decided to review the contract with Valley Behavioral Health to determine whether another provider can better meet the county’s needs.
“We figured that since we have a really good idea of what our needs are, we should go out there and see who else can provide these services to us to determine if we are being responsible with our funds and whether there are better providers,” Newman said.
The county has been “all-in” with Valley Behavioral Health providing services since 2003, Newman said. But now, he said they are exploring other options.
“What would it be if we had a managed care organization or counter-care organization where they have their own network to provide services that integrates the care,” he said. “We are also looking at what would it be if we joined with other districts and what advantages there could be to that.”
Officials are not considering creating a Summit County Behavioral Health, though, because the entity would have to vie for the same money that other agencies do in the county, Newman said.
“This is all about due diligence,” he said. “Since 2003 when we entered into this contract it hasn’t been analyzed.”
Valley Behavioral Health is also in the process of changing its model of delivery to try and get away from providing direct services, Newman said.
“The other nice part is our timing,” he said. “The current contract expires at the end of August so in September we will have a new contract. The provider may change, it may not change. We just want to see what is out there.”
Valley Behavioral Health did not return a request for comment by press time.
The request for proposals went public on Friday. The Health Department is seeking a provider for services such as outpatient care, case management and crisis care. Additionally, the county is asking for specific services such as extended hours and Spanish-speaking clinicians.
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, director of the Health Department, said the development of the request for proposals process has been a community effort. 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, are among those who helped develop the request for proposal. Armstrong will not review the submissions because the County Council has the final authority over awarding the contract.
“The time is right for us to further assure that our community priorities are being addressed in the most effective, efficient way possible,” Bullough said in an email. “Over the past several years, I’ve grown to better understand the essential importance of these programs and services to our residents and communities. It is for this reason that I consider the selection of our future partner, or partners, as being one of the most consequential decisions, of which I’ve been a part, since my hiring as Summit County Health director eight years ago.”
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.