Next year Kansas will start phasing in a new method of financing Kansas mental health centers a change that is being touted by some mental health providers as a way to boost and improve services to patients.
Area mental health centers plan to begin relying less on grants and more on higher Medicaid payment rates. This change is expected to have as much impact on the state mental health system as the elimination of hundreds of state hospital beds in the early 1990s, said Sandra Shaw, chief executive officer at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, 200 Maine St.
"It's huge," Shaw said of the financing change. "It's an incredible shift."
The so-called Mental Health Initiative 2000 is aimed at providing patients more timely access to mental health care and better treatment outside hospitals for those with recurrent mental illnesses, Shaw said.
Ellen Piekalkiewicz, policy and planning director for the Topeka-based Association of Community Mental Health Centers Inc., agrees with Shaw.
"We've been working on this for awhile," she said. "The mental health centers wanted it yesterday."
In the past, mental health centers have received shares of about $48 million in grant money. Next year the state will redistribute $16 million of that money into Medicaid to boost reimbursement for service rates. Most of Bert Nash patients are Medicaid patients, Shaw said.
That will allow Bert Nash to receive full Medicaid reimbursement for services something that was lacking and had to be made up with other funds in the past, Shaw said.
"If the rates only partially covered the services, then before you can expand services you had to make sure you covered what you already had," Shaw said.
Administrators at Bert Nash are still studying what the savings will be with the new program and how they will be used. One area of improvement might involve the procurement of psychiatric services, which has been a problem in the past because of low Medicaid reimbursement rates, Shaw said.
The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services approved the financing change after receiving a critical report on mental health services from the state's Legislative Post Audit Committee.
The report, released earlier this year, revealed that mental health centers were under-financed and unable to provide some necessary services. It also claimed that centers were not receiving enough federal assistance through Medicaid.
The ability to meet service needs is especially important in light of the Topeka-based Menninger Clinic's coming relocation to Texas, Piekalkiewicz said.
"We have had some critical funding needs and we've certainly felt the pressure," she said.
Exactly when the new financing methods will go into effect next year and what the new Medicaid rates will be are still to be determined, Piekalkiewicz said.
Furthermore, what effect, if any, the financing initiative will have on Lawrence Memorial Hospital's mental health unit isn't clear. The hospital's chief executive, Gene Meyers, said he wasn't sure the change would have any direct effect on the hospitalization aspect of mental health.
Shirley Martin-Smith, a member of Bert Nash's board of directors, hopes state officials and future directors of mental health centers will remember the problems that have led to the financing change.
"I think it's important that we have a written history detailing how we got to this point," she said.