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Valley Mental Health's side

Published July 20, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As chairman of Valley Mental Health's board of directors, I find it is my responsibility to address misstatements circulating since our announcement to transition VMH patients to Optum Healthcare's system.

Central to my points is that Valley Mental Health, a nonprofit organization, is committed to effectively providing service to improve, enhance, and promote the emotional well-being, growth and recovery of individuals who experience life-disrupting problems due to mental illness and chemical abuse.

For more than 25 years, we have provided such services, many of them nationally acclaimed, through a professional, sensitive and qualified group of doctors and specialists who uphold national standards. We want to continue to provide those vital services to Salt Lake County residents in need of treatment for physical, emotional, social, vocational and educational needs.

Optum, a for-profit health care administrator, governs the administration of the public dollars funding mental-health services and was hired by Salt Lake County before the current administration was installed. VMH is but one of those providers in Optum's network of more than 200.

In late June, Optum informed VMH it would reduce its funding for mental health services by $1.2 million. Combined with Optum's 2012 reduction of $4 million, VMH now faced a $5.2 million decrease in funding to pay for the same services for county residents.

As with any budget — personal, family or business — reduction in money means reduction in items you can purchase. In the service business, it means you cannot provide service to as many clients.

VMH has administered such programs for decades, and will continue to offer those services to patients covered by other insurance providers that will pay for such services, including residents in Summit and Tooele counties, which are not managed by Optum.

However, Salt Lake County residents insured through Optum will not be able to receive those services from VMH. The funding has been cut, and they therefore must transition to another provider in Optum's network.

Optum assured the public it will transition each patient. VMH believes their word and is cooperating fully to make the transition as smooth as possible for patients.

With current funding, we are protecting services for our most fragile patients, for youth and for children with autism.

When protesters petitioned Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams on the ramifications of reduced funding, the mayor called for an audit of the system.

We wholeheartedly welcome that action. With full transparency, the entire system should be continually analyzed to ensure every party is benefiting the county's citizens. Valley Mental Health, Optum Healthcare and the county should all be included in that independent audit.

Optum itself recently conducted an audit of Valley Mental Health and concluded that VMH ranks in the 90th percentile. We applaud our doctors, clinicians and professional staff for earning that high mark and for continuing to provide excellent care to our patients.

Finally, we see no need for personal attacks. Valley's board firmly sustains VMH president and CEO Gary Larcenaire, who has guided VMH through a time of turmoil and transition. He leads with an effective and analytical management style that has earned the trust of staff and stakeholders. Let us have productive dialogue and not tear one another down.

Once facts are known in context, we believe it will be the beginning of a healthy dialogue to ensure we are all doing what we are charged to do: Provide mental health care services for those in Salt Lake County who need assistance to cope with life-altering conditions.

That's why we exist. That's why we will continue to serve for decades to come.

Bruce Cummings is chairman of the Valley Mental Health board of directors. He lives in Tooele.