Omni House pact near

Anne Arundel, state tentatively agree on emergency funding

$200,000 shortfall estimated

Mental health clinic among many facing financial pressures

February 15, 2002|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

State and Anne Arundel County officials reached a tentative agreement yesterday to provide emergency funding to Omni House, a Glen Burnie mental health provider that is one of many throughout Maryland reeling from the state's mental health crisis.

Under the arrangement - the details of which are being worked out - the county agency that oversees and monitors public mental health service would provide the clinic with a grant to remain open for at least the next few months, the agency's director said.

Frank A. Sullivan, executive director of the county's Core Services Agency, said that he could not discuss the grant amount because he and state Mental Hygiene Administration officials are negotiating the final figure.

"I'm happy we're being listened to, and I think we're going to get some help," said Lois Miller, founder and chief executive officer of Omni House. "It's still tenuous, and we don't know what the bottom line is, but we're very happy to be at the table talking."

Financial pressures forced Omni House - a mental health provider in Anne Arundel County for 20 years - to close its clinic for children and adolescents two months ago, as well as its substance abuse clinic. The closures affected 240 patients, most of whom were referred to other treatment programs in the county.

Omni House is seeking the grant to allow it to maintain its outpatient mental health clinic and psychiatric rehabilitation services.

Miller said she was uncertain whether the substance abuse clinic and the services for children and adolescents would reopen.

Community-based mental health providers statewide are trying to cope with a $21 million deficit in the mental health system and administrative problems. Eleven clinics have closed, including two last year in Anne Arundel.

Miller said that while she's hoping for the emergency money, she also would like to see a long-term solution to mental health funding.

"The basic problem is that the system is underfunded," she said. "And until we get more money, it's like putting a finger in the dike."

As state officials and legislators work to address the problems, private providers are seeking cash infusions to stay afloat until the state's new fiscal year begins in July, Sullivan said.

Providers say problems in the mental health system have been building since 1997 when the state moved to a new system of delivering services. The Mental Hygiene Administration adopted a policy in which clinics were reimbursed for treating each patient - a system that providers say led to denials of service and delays in insurance payments.

Previously, many clinics received lump sum state grants to provide services. Since the switch, the number of patients receiving services through community-based clinics has grown from 50,000 to 80,000, but state funding has not kept pace.

Miller said Omni House's two now-closed clinics lost more than $20,000 a month the last several months they were in operation. She told state officials recently that Omni House needs $200,000 to cover the shortfall. "Whether they can come up with that or half of that I don't know," she said.

Sullivan said his goal is to provide Omni House with an amount to cover debt incurred when it took on nearly 500 additional patients last year after the Corner Clinic closed two of its mental health facilities in the county.

"I'm trying to document how much damage that did to their organization," Sullivan said.

He said most of the money probably would come from the budget of the Core Services Agency, which, like similar agencies in Maryland, is responsible for overseeing and monitoring mental health services on a local level.

In addition to asking for help from the state, Omni House has been working with a consultant to improve efficiency and its ability to collect on insurance claims.

"They've got a great attitude, and they're trying to do what is necessary to fix whatever the problems are," Sullivan said.

On the consultant's recommendation, Omni House is being more aggressive about collecting co-payments and has shifted some administrative paperwork from therapists to other employees. It also is offering more group therapy instead of individual therapy, which is more expensive.

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