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News Blog

Valley clients concerned over future of mental health care

by Stephen Dark
- Posted // 2011-05-06 -

Two Valley Mental Health long-term clients visited City Weekly's office today, expressing concern and anger over the direction they felt Salt Lake County mental health care was being taken.

Their concerns have been prompted in part by what some argue has been Valley's failure to communicate fulsomely with its clients about the changes that are taking place in the wake of Salt Lake County's decision to hire OptumHealth to manage its $55 million care contract for the mentally ill.

Last month, Valley's CEO Debra Falvo announced 100 layoffs of its 1,000-odd staff as part of a restructuring in preparation for the tougher times the private nonprofit treatment provider faces in the wake of Optum taking over its contract.

Bud Day, 56, is bipolar and says he has been a Valley client since 1995. Donna Gunn, 36, is autistic and has been a Valley client since 2004. Both spoke passionately about their fears about, and frustrations over, mental health care in Salt Lake County. They felt information was being kept from clients about the future of Valley, which now faces having to compete in the marketplace if Optum decides its services are too expensive. "I'm tired of [Valley's clients] cowering," Gunn says. "We need to stand up for our rights."

While Gunn feared that the highly successful and admired Alliance House might be closed -- something Valley has said will not happen -- they both expressed concern over the representative payee office closing at the end of June. That office helps administer clients' financial affairs, ensuring, for example, that checks for rent are paid on time.

"We have to find another payee," Day says, but his therapist won't sign papers, "so I can become my own payee," he continues, leaving him uncertain about how his finances will be managed in the future.

In an April 13, 2011, dated communique from Salt Lake County to Valley clients, entitled OptumHealth, stated Fresh Start would continue. "Most people who attend Fresh Start find it very helpful." No mention was made of Wellness and Recovery, which provides group therapy sessions. Fresh Start and Wellness were Valley's much trumpeted replacement for Pathways, which some saw as a "red-headed step child" that Valley management didn't like.

City Weekly last year ran a cover story, Valley Mental Hell, about the demise of Pathways as part of sweeping changes introduced by CEO Debra Falvo. Those threatened changes irked County officials to the point where they eventually took control of their contract away from Valley. Day said that issues of  City Weekly that featured the cover story were removed by either a Valley employee or client from the stand outside the North Valley building minutes after they had been delivered.

Several weeks ago, following Falvo's announcement of a new wave of cuts, City Weekly submitted questions to Valley's communications director, Christopher Katis. Below are the questions and his responses.

CW: Are clients being informed of changes? How?

VMH: Yes, clients are being informed. Information for them is being coordinated with a client group, SLCo, Optum, NAMI, and Valley.

CW: Representative payee is closing? If true, why? What does it do? My understanding is it serves almost 1,000 clients by monitoring SSI and disability funding, paying bills etc. If correct, won't loss of rep payee impact clients who struggle to maintain finances? Possibly lead to evictions?

VMH: Representative Payee is an important service. It is Valley's hope that the new administrative structure with Optum will be successful in finding a way to provide this service.

CW: Changes in admin staff? Was anyone let go from management?

VMH: There are and will be changes at every level of the organization central and local administration along with clinical.

CW: Why not dispose of real estate assets rather than cut staff on the front line?

VMH: Managing real estate assets and ongoing funding are entirely different management issues. To continue to provide actual services ongoing, reimbursement of services must occur. One time money cannot sustain service delivery.

CW: A new operations manager was appointed? Why?

VMH: No position has been appointed. However, a COO position is very common in organizations like ours, and indeed has been a position at Valley in the past. We tried it without having a dedicated COO for a few years, and recently made a management decision to reinstate this role to better position us for the future.

CW: Did VMH board approve changes? Any votes against? Has to be unanimous or not?

VMH: Valley's Board members have been very involved at every stage in the changes. State and local authorities and NAMI have as well. We are making the changes to position ourselves to successfully compete for a contract with Optum.

CW: Optum is supposedly hiring 30 management staff, effectively setting up mirror of Valley's admin structure. Any comment?

VMH: You would need to speak with Optum about its hiring needs. However, it's important to remember that Optum will be administering only the Salt Lake County mental health contract, not running Valley. Valley has other business besides the Salt Lake County contract, and our management is necessary for that business.

CW: Optum contract up for review in 18 months apparently. What expectation does Valley have of regaining contract?

VMH: Our current focus is to work with Optum so we can continue providing services to this important population.

CW: How is morale at Valley with further round of cuts?

VMH: Change is always difficult. It is especially difficult to lose great staff. But it's important to remember that these changes were made simply to match our staffing needs with our future revenue.

CW: Who is Valley bidding against for Optum contract?

CW: Staff complain of cuts being made to services yet expected to increase productivity to 70 percent?

VMH: Productivity expectations being asked of staff in both the administrative and clinical areas meet community standards for our industry across the nation. They are necessary to successfully provide services at the future revenue expectations.

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Posted // May 16,2011 at 00:21

So supposedly the junket to San Diego for was the conference anon cited AND to meet with a CMHC that survived Optum. So per the conference website 850-1000.00 per attendee X 20 attendess from VMH 18-20000.00 JUST for the conference, lodging 239.00 a night for the week they were there even doubling up thats ten rooms for seven nights. Plus airfare, ground transporation, meals and wages paid. Conseratively I would guesstimate that around 40,000.00 was spent for this trip by Deb Falvo and her cronies.


Posted // May 10,2011 at 10:58

Stephen you will NEVER get a straight answer from Chris Katis. The Representative Payee Program is in fact closing in June. This program has always been very important to the Sriously, Persistently Mentally Ill population. Rumor has it that the Program Manager has been working very hard to transfer the clients to a new provider that has agreed to take any and all clients. However the new provider will likely NOT provide the advocacy with landlords, utilities, Social Security etc that the Representative Payee Program did for many years. Stepehn you may want to talk to the prescribers for VMH. Last week while 20 members of the executive committee and admin were in San Diego for a WEEK all the doctors presented the VMH Board with a 20 page document detailing their concerns, specifically mentioned were the failures of Deb Falvo, Richard Hatch, Gary Baker and Joeseph Yau. Rumor has it that Gary Baker will likely be the C.O.O., this is the same guy who ran Cornerstone into bankruptcy yet Deb and Co keep him around. Stephen I can guarantee you that VMH is NOT doing a competent, adequate job of keeping the clients informed of the changes.

Clients that need the paperwork signed need to make an appt with their DOCTOR and get the 787 form from Social Security signed by the DOCTOR. Social Security rules mandate that a medical officer sign the form, NOT the therapist. Of course with the new unwiedly care plan that apparently that ties the providers hands rather than facilitating quality care. Doctors are spending one to two hours on this "Document" which the Document Oversight Committee says is unrecognizable from what they envisioned AND approved. The way it is set up now case managers CANNOT complete the document known as the Case Management Needs Assessment, either a doctor has to do it or an LMHT. In what world does that make sense?

Wellness and Recovery has been delegated to 100% peer run. I'm not sure what will happen to the two staff that were there.

Lastly Stephen to the best of my knowledge, NOBODY in Admin was rif'd. I've read many of Mr. Katis' comments here and elsewhere and Stephen he has continually denied that the Representative Payee Program was NOT closing and yet it is. What else has Mr. Katis and VMH been disingenuious about in their dealings with staff and clients? Stephen there is a huge story here. Keep digging. Why did 20 people from admin/exec NEED to go to San Diego for a week?


Posted // June 3,2011 at 19:56 - Gary Baker not only ran Cornerstone into the ground, he left a trail of bloody bodies in the wake--people whose careers got trashed. While the focus is on Deb Falvo's poor decisionmaking, this mess has Baker's characteristic signature all over it. Just wait until you see what happens when he gets the job.


Posted // May 9,2011 at 08:01

If VMH gave a da... n before they would have been more concerned with programs as models across hte US but they refused to even consider changes. Period.