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News Blog

County moves to calm Valley fears

by Stephen Dark
- Posted // 2010-09-23 -

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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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // October 13,2010 at 09:00

Please do not abandon us, Stephen. This story warrants more attention. Recently, VMH conducted a conference, full of , fraud, and misconceptions. Awards given to programs that should not have qualified, based upon the VMH qualifyers, money spent at the expense of "others', the employees at the lower end of VMH will suffer in the next few months. Many comments about "thinking outside of the box" with no answers. Financial disclosures indicate a 20 million dollar loss due to Optum care coming into VMH system. What will that mean to this community? Comments made about a lease that VMH has, that was originally for People Smarts, now vacated, VMH is obligated to pay on an empty building until the end of lease, $8,000- and higher per month. When will this company be investigated?

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // October 10,2010 at 16:56

Oh, here it is: The expiring blog about Valley Mental Health. I had to dig deep to find it. I almost needed a cadavre dog to sniff out the body. Gee, City Weekly, you do something that is first-rate public interest journalism in regard to Valley Mental Health, then return to complaining about the death of places like Port O'Call, the Zephyr Club and the Dead Goat. They're gone. Give it up. The Valley Mental Health story still lives and needs CPR.

To wit, as they might say in the Federal Court complex that snuffed out Port O'Call and Zephyr: The Valley Mental Health administration's appeal to Salt Lake County has been denied. OptumHealth will proceed in assuming the administration contract. Read Saturday's Deseret News.

In the Deseret News article, Debra Falvo, head of Valley Mental Health, says her attention will now focus on how Valley Mental Health will work with OptumHealth. What? Why would a giant company, OptumHealth, which competed against Valley for the adminstrative contract want to work with the same group of people who were rejected -- based on a quality comparison, hopefully? I mean, after winning the contract, why woul OptumHealth want to work with the losers they beat out? And, as hostile as Debra Falvo and her henchman have been, why would OptumHealth trust that Falvor and company would not undermine performance so that they could once again bid against OptumHealth? But wait, another way of putting the question would be: Why -- even if Falvo and company would do their best for OptumHealth, would OptumHealth want to bank on the inocompetence of Falvor and company? Hey, there's some real craziness going on here, and the last people to see it are Debra Falvo and her brood.

If OptumHealth has any business sense -- and, gee, given its pervasive presence, don't you think it does? -- isn't it likely that it will protect its performance and its backside against Debra Falvo and company?

Of course, Debra Falvo and company seem to believe they are too valuable to replace. No, Deb, it's the good clinical staff of Valley Mental Health -- none of them your cronies -- that are valuable to the operation of Valley Mental Health. One can only hope that OptumHealth will look for local clinical/management help that can step in, inspire what good Valley clinicans are left, and begin once again serving the patients that have been callously ignored by Valley administration for at least the last five year.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // October 3,2010 at 17:27

In October, 2009 at the annual Valley Mental Health Conference, Debra Falvo glowed with how great Valley programs had done and how great our staff were. We all thought we were safe. By the end of the week she informed us that there would be cuts and she would have this information ready by Friday morning October 23, 2009. What a shock! Poor planning, poor leadership. She had to be reminded that the substance contract ran through June, 2010. How could she cut that program. Clinicians were cut, but no administrators and supervisors, Why? With programs decreasing to half or less of their census how do you justify maintaining supervisors and adminitrators? Good ol'boy/girl system. Thank you everyone for revealing the truth and the pain these decisions have caused good people on both sides who did mean well. I also find it interesting that clinicians who have a partner in administration have been kept safe from the reduction in force. Oh and did anyone ever talk about the $2,500 tax free bonuses given to select staff awhile back, or was that their 40 pieces of silver to keep quiet in these current events? Were any of those folks a part of the RIF? So interesting.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 29,2010 at 19:58

VMH didn't distribute the letter because it's inaccurate. It has not been decided that Valley will work under OptumHealth or not. And besides, someone didn't spell "Collegue" right!

 

Posted // October 2,2010 at 08:08 - There I go again mixing words up

 

Posted // October 2,2010 at 08:06 - oops. Well just goes to show how words can mean so much. Who care is they spelled "colleague" right. Look it up. It's the message that's important.

 

REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // September 29,2010 at 12:26

Stephen you really need to keep digging. it's too bad you weren't at the leadership workshop held at Jordan Commons the other day. Miss Falvo started it off with a heart warming story about how she and some of exec committee, Catherine Carter included went to a conference in Vancouver British Columbia. We heard about how she and some others went up early and went sea kayaking. We NEVER heard what the conference/workshop was about, what they learned from it, WHY they went up a few days EARLY, who paid for that and the sea kayaking or what the purpose of the trip was. Nothing on the "Portal", nothing via e-mail. Stephen perhaps you could ask Miss Falvo who, besides her and Catherine Carter went on this trip, how much it cost taxpayers etc. Is is any wonder this agency is in jeopardy? Exec demands accountability of front line staff yet NO ONE holds Exec accountable. The vmh "board" might as well not exist for all the "oversight" they provide.

 

Posted // October 4,2010 at 07:46 - Falvo continues to be completely clueless! With all the $100k execs and directors she has surrounded her self with - including a communication professional -can't just one of them give her something to read to staff so she can at least pretend to be less incompetent?? We can't wait to see what she has planned for the October staff retreat - perhaps a slide show of her and her top tier on one of their many junkets to Paris, New Orleans, Boston, New York...That will be a great intro to a new round of pink slips.

 

Posted // September 29,2010 at 16:58 - Yes, Stephen, keep digging. If it hadn't been for your article, I believe this would all still be in the dark -- secreted there by the likes of Valley Mental Health administration and those who, like Randy Horiuchi, are no doubt beholden to them. Why over the years has the County Council not been aware of the mismanagement of Valley? If they had overseen it as they should, there wouldn't be so many scandalous issues on the burner. That someone should attempt to dismiss all of this as the work of bitter present or past employees, or of politics, should only motivate the press toward more investigation. The commission put together by the County Mayor -- NAMI, Fourth Street Clinic et al -- is as respected a group of comunity partners as anyone could come up with. They have seen how sausage is made at Valley Mental Health and have complained about it for a long time. Valley likes to state in its mission statement that it is a "community partner." Well, the other community partners have spoken, and they want a new partner to oversee Valley Mental Health. Is Horiuchi so obtuse as to not understand that? We are hearing that Debra Falvo and her good-time pals in Valley Admin recently took yet another trip, one where -- as she told her leaderhsip team at Jordan Commons -- she went sea kayaking off British Colombia. She told a sycophant newspaper columnist during the Valley layoffs of last year that she sneaks into Valley units to get her "client fix," so she can be reminded of what impassions her. Well, no one who worked at those units ever saw her do such a thing, and none of those skilled front-line clinicians would ever have seen her sea-kayak, either; they just wouldn't be welcome. She would feel less important in their presence. Such trips and perks are not for the small people -- otherwise, they wouldn't be perks. Evita, anyone? Which brings me back to your work, Stephen Dark: You have lit a dark place, and the people in it have been emboldened to speak out. I believe that those fine people who run Fourth Street Clinic, NAMI, and others have also been emboldened by your articles. Anyone who thinks the press is dead or dazed on the ropes in this time of dramatic change should think again.

 

 
 
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