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Merger of mental-health groups completed

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer

A merger more than a year in the making of three local management entities (LMEs) working with mental-health care and related issues became effective July 1 and will now be serving citizens in eight different counties, including Lincoln County.
As the Times-News previously reported, Gastonia-based Pathways LME, along with Elkin-based Crossroads Behavioral Healthcare and Hickory’s Mental Health Partners, began discussions on the merger in the spring of 2011.
Together, they now form Partners Behavioral Health Management, headquartered in Gastonia, and managing public behavioral health services.
During the transition, patients should not experience any significant changes, a press release announcing the merger noted. Citizens can continue to access services for a mental health need, a substance abuse issue or for assistance with developmental disability by calling 1-888-235-HOPE (4673).
Rhett Melton, area director for Pathways, has been appointed as Chief Executive Officer for Partners BHM.
Melton told the Times-News Friday that the organization will continue to contract with the same providers.
Partners BHM’s regional offices are located in Hickory and Elkin (the principal business locations of the other entities merging). The eight-county area being served includes Gaston, Lincoln, Cleveland, Catawba, Burke, Iredell, Surry and Yadkin counties.
Commissioners from each county involved were asked to sign off on an “intent-to-merge” agreement, and a merger committee comprised of members of the three entities’ boards of directors was formed to see the process through, though no funding from the counties was necessary.
The boards of each entity had restricted money that was approved by the state to allow for the transition.
Additionally, several community forums were conducted over the last few months in the affected counties to inform the public of the merger and to answer any questions.
In a press release announcing the information sessions, Melton described some of the LME’s new responsibilities that would result from the merger.
“The eight-county organization will be responsible for managing more than just state-funded services for mental health, intellectual and developmental disabilities and substance abuse,” Melton stated. “As Partners Behavioral Health Management, we will add the management of Medicaid-funded services. This allows for stronger coordination of all publicly funded behavioral health services.”
Partners BHM will begin managing Medicaid-funded services in January, and Melton noted that new staff members will be hired at all offices to handle the additional work. Recruitment for these positions will likely start within the next few months.
The decision to merge was prompted by legislative action requiring LMEs to serve at least 500,000 citizens by 2013, according to a press release from Pathways.
Prior to the merger, Pathways would not have met that requirement. In merging with the two adjoining entities, the combined population served by Partners BHM is more than 900,000.
The organizations are also now required to have 70,000 Medicaid enrollees to manage those services locally.
“We had to partner to meet those two new standards,” Melton added.
He said one benefit of the merger could be to encourage providers to expand their service capacities in each of the counties. In the long term, the care will be better managed closer to home, rather than at the state level, Melton said.
For more information about Partners BHM, visit www.partnersbhm.org.

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