Thursday, September 23, 2010

County moves to calm Valley fears

Posted By on September 23, 2010, 7:27 PM

The now public struggle between Salt Lake County and Valley Mental Health's leadership over the future of the county's mental health contract took an odd twist today.--- 

The county wanted to release a letter to Valley employees in an attempt to calm some of the fear and anguish that had mushroomed among staffers as word spread that the contract that had fed the organization for so long was no longer theirs - at least in part.

The flames of fear were presumably fanned to higher heights by Valley CEO Debra Falvo's recent internal memo forecasting further job losses as a result of the county moving to shift the running of the contract from Falvo's Midvale offices to OptumHealth.

So the County, according to one mental health worker, requested that Valley release a letter by County officials to Valley staffers through its internal communication system, known as the portal. Its nose put out of joint by the County's decision to look elsewhere for administration, Valley, apparently, declined to disseminate the County's cordial salutation to its employees.

Here's the text of the letter:

Dear Collegue,

We wanted to take a few minutes to update you on the status of our mental health contract process. We realize that the recent announcement that OptumHealth received the contract for Mental Health Services in Salt Lake County is causing concern and some fear for you. We’d like you know that we don’t see many changes for at least the next 9 months or longer and that most, if not all, of the changes will occur in the administrative services part of the organization.

The Background:

Salt Lake County is required by state procurement law to place all contracted services out into the competitive market. The contract for mental health services was scheduled to end on December 31, 2010 so we initiated the bid process. This year, in addition to VMH’s proposal, two national managed care firms submitted proposals. The selection process was monitored and approved by our Contract Office and District Attorney’s office.

A panel of seven community stakeholders was chosen for the selection committee.  They included representatives from NAMI, SL County, Utah Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, 4th Street Clinic, Juvenile Court, the Behavioral Advisory Board, and the CIT Law Enforcement Team.  The Division of Behavioral Health staff was not involved in the scoring and selection process.  The panel reviewed the proposals, conducted interviews, and scored the proposals. OptumHealth was chosen to manage the administration of mental health services for Salt Lake County. They pledged to continue to contract with VMH to provide the mental health services within the County. Salt Lake County is also committed to continuing to provide mental health services through VMH.

What Does this Mean?

OptumHealth will be the administrative arm for mental health services while VMH continues to be the clinical arm. If, for some reason, VMH will need to reduce its administrative staff, OptumHealth pledges to interview and hire as many of those staff members as possible to reduce job loss. We do not foresee job losses among clinical staff in at-least the next year, if any. We do not expect any disruption in client services provided through VMH in this process and know that you will continue to provide effective services to those with mental illness in SL County.

The selection of OptumHealth was a surprise to many in the community and frankly, the feedback has varied from “You’re crazy!” to “This is a great idea!” We have confidence that Optum Health will work closely with the County and with you to provide a seamless transition. Salt Lake County is committed to its relationship with VMH as an excellent services provider and looks forward to our future possibilities in working together for the benefit of Salt Lake County.

We thank you for your patience as we work out the logistics of the new contract. We plan to continue the current contract, and extend it until June 30, 2011, so that there is time to work things out to everyone’s benefit.

Sincerely,

Jean Nielsen, SLCO Human Services Director

Tim Whalen, SLCO Mental Health Director

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