Hospital seeking private operator for Pathways drug abuse program

June 28, 1994|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel Medical Center plans to turn over management of its financially troubled Pathways Chemical Dependency Program to a private company, a hospital source said yesterday.

Fran Counihan, vice president of marketing and public relations, would confirm only that the hospital was negotiating a contract with a private vendor.

But a hospital source familiar with the negotiations said a contract would be signed soon with Mental Health Management, a national drug and alcohol treatment chain based in McLean, Va. The company runs a half-dozen treatment centers in Maryland, including Oakview Treatment Centers in Ellicott City and Columbia.

Officials from Mental Health Management were not available for comment.

Pathways, owned and operated by the hospital's parent company, Anne Arundel General Health Care Systems Inc., has been a disappointment financially since it opened in November 1992, hospital administrators said.

Ms. Counihan said yesterday the benefits of turning Pathways over to a private company are twofold: First, the center would be run by a company specializing in drug and alcohol treatment; and second, such a company would have a wider network from which to pull referrals.

"I think it would give us a financial edge in the market place," she said.

Pathways has suffered from a dearth of referrals for a number of reasons, Ms. Counihan said.

Most significantly, the 40-bed facility was starting up at a time when insurance companies were clamping down on in-patient coverage. Many insurers now are paying for out-patient treatment when appropriate because it is much cheaper.

The number of referrals also has been hurt by persistent rumors that the center would close, she said. Physicians, counselors and other treatment professionals may be reluctant to refer patients, not knowing if the facility will remain open throughout the course of treatment.

"We've had to work doubly hard to convince people we're not closing," said Ms. Counihan.

Last June, the number of patients at the $4.5 million center dwindled to an average of eight a day. The hospital staff responded by admitting adults to what had been a treatment center for teen-agers only.

The number of patients started to climb slowly. For the past three months, said Ms. Counihan, the average number of patients has been 17. Last week, admissions reached 22, the highest number yet.

But even though the number of patients has increased, the hospital continues to lose money. Pathways would need at least 21 patients consistently to break even, Ms. Counihan said.

Phyllis Baron, Pathways' clinical director, said even with another management company, she did not expect the treatment programs offered to change much.

"It's too early to know. I haven't met with these people," she said. "My guess is that the program will stay the same, and we'll offer the same comprehensive services."

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