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Valley Mental Health program freezes access to new Optum clients

by Stephen Dark
Posted // 2012-11-07 -

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.

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Posted // November 12,2012 at 17:34

This past year, local news has covered the evolving status of Valley Mental Health and its Medicaid-based services for those in our community with mental health issues. For over 20 years, Valley Mental Health was the model of mental health care and widely recognized for its innovative programming, its staff and its model of client care. More recently, the news about Valley Mental Health has centered on the various changes with a more negative portrayal. Being a former employee, I know personally that many individuals and their families have benefitted from the support and services provided by Valley Mental Health and I hope this history will not be ignored. Change is inevitable in all things and while this can raise anxiety, change can also yield positive results. During this time of change, I would hope that professionals in the community would continue collaboration rather than competition and remain focused on how best to serve clients and their families. If you are a Medicaid consumer and you need mental health counseling, there are resources available in Salt Lake County in addition to those still being provided by Valley Mental Health, some of which are listed on the OptumHealth website or can be accessed by calling the phone number on your Medicaid card. Let’s work together for good mental health.

Mark A. Weisbender, LCSW


Silverado Counseling Services, LLC   

www. silveradocounseling. com