The relationship between OptumHealth, which administers Salt Lake County's mental-health-services contract, and Valley Mental Health is showing signs of strain, as the two entities engage in a little hardball.
Valley had run the contract exclusively until a falling out between the Deborah Falvo-led management team at Valley and the County in 2009 precipitated Optum being brought in to take charge in July 2011.
This morning, Valley announced to its staff, according to a statement Valley sent City Weekly—after it inquired as to rumors that its short-stay, crisis program, Community Treatment Program [CTP], had closed—that Valley had put in place "a temporary freeze for new Optum client referrals to CTP, ARTEC Day Treatment and Respite, and is not currently accepting any new Optum clients in these programs."
Current clients covered by Optum Medicaid will continue to receive services.
Valley spokesperson Kelly Starkey said that the nonprofit agency is currently reviewing a 2013 contract presented to it by Optum that "represented a significant decrease" in funds available for services compared to 2012.
She would not comment on the amount of potential decrease in funding, although sources in the mental-health community put it as high as $3.5 million.
Regardless of the amount, Valley is apparently attempting to leverage more dollars out of Optum by restricting access to client services.
Employees had been assured that this decision would not result in layoffs, Starkey said. Where new clients will go until this dispute is resolved isn't clear.
Valley finds itself in a new business landscape, with other agencies advertising their services in competition after Optum took over the reins of being ultimately responsible for services to Salt Lake County's mentally ill.
Starkey said Valley was "operating under a new reality, with a new attitude, and is a very different company than what it was 18 months ago." Part of that new reality is apparently diversifying revenue streams from its traditional reliance on the county contract. It has been in the black for the last four months, Starkey noted.