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Salt Lake County paves way for mental health shake-up
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Salt Lake County has a new philosophy for treating the mentally ill — and a new mental health plan to make it possible.

The County Council on Tuesday adopted the plan, which recognizes, for the first time, that mental health programs can be administered by one entity, but carried out by another.

The change reflects the county's desire to have OptumHealth, a Minnesota-based health and wellness firm, oversee mental health services. While Optum would manage the programs, it would contract with other agencies such as Valley Mental Health to provide client care.

It represents a dramatic departure from years past, when the county relied wholly on Valley Mental Health for those services. Officials hope the new approach will lead to greater efficiency and financial accountability.

"What we have done today is very important," Councilman Randy Horiuchi said. "We have fulfilled our mission as the mental-health and substance-abuse providers in the county."

For months, the county has been pushing toward an Optum takeover of mental health, now scheduled for July. That transition depended, in part, on the council tweaking its mental health plan.

Although the county and Optum have yet to sign a contract, changes already are appearing in the mental health community.

Valley laid off about 100 employees this month to better compete for an Optum contract to provide services. Valley spokesman Christopher Katis said the cuts — which represent a 9 percent reduction in the agency's workforce — would not result in the elimination of any programs.

Council Chairman Max Burdick believes the transition, however painful, will lead to better oversight of mental health funds.

"It has been a huge paradigm shift," Burdick said. "It has opened a lot of eyes. It has opened a lot of doors. The end result has been comforting."

The county hopes to ink an agreement with Optum by week's end. Optum then will take charge of mental health July 1.

jstettler@sltrib.com

What's next

P On July 1, OptumHealth is scheduled to replace Valley Mental Health as manager of Salt Lake County's mental health programs. Officials hope to have a contract signed by week's end.

Management • OptumHealth will oversee services.
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