DOBSON — More than $15 million in state and federal benefits was paid out for mental health services in Surry County in 2016.
At Monday’s meeting of the Surry County Board of Commissioners, a representative from Partners Behavioral Health Management presented numbers regarding how many patients received mental health services in Surry County — not including those receiving care through personal insurance like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Commissioner Larry Phillips explained mental health for Medicaid patients is handled by the state, with organizations such as Partners set up to manage mental health care throughout the state. Surry County is part of Partners’ region, and Partners merged in recent years with Crossroads Behavioral Health, which had provided such services out of a Mount Airy location.
Cassandra Willis, chief public relations officer for Partners clarified mental health is a free market system in North Carolina. However, to service Medicaid patients and receive reimbursement for such services, a mental health provider must credential with and work with Partners or the respective organization in that region.
Phillips explained Partners doesn’t provide mental health services. Instead, the company manages such services, linking those in need of care with local providers as well as handling billing and compensation.
“How do we assure citizens have access to care without a brick-and-mortar structure?” Phillips asked Jeffery Eads, the company’s regional director of community operations.
“When people call us, we link them to a provider right away,” answered Eads.
Phillips, who sits on the Partners board of directors, said state lawmakers share his concerns about access to care, but the commissioner is also concerned about the direction in which the state may be moving in the area of mental health.
Phillips said state lawmakers have tossed around the idea of further consolidating mental health. A recent proposal was to merge Partners with Smoky Mountain Behavioral Health. The region would stretch from Surry to Cherokee County, and Phillips is concerned such a merger could hurt availability of care to Surry County residents.
There’s also a movement to privatize the manner in which mental health services are delivered to Medicaid patients in North Carolina, but Phillips said that would also concern him.
“The first and foremost concern on my mind is always ensuring our residents have the care available to them,” noted Phillips.
At Monday’s meeting, Phillips said there are a number of issues at hand in people not seeking the care they need. One is the stereotype associated with receiving such care. However, a failure to publicize the availability of such services could also be a factor.
Eads, however, said utilization numbers among Medicaid patients and other state payers in 2016 were up from prior years.
According to Eads’ numbers, Partners managed mental health care for 3,118 Surry County residents through state programs in 2016. A little more than 2,300 of those patients were Medicaid patients.
According to the figures, $13,823,512 was paid for Medicaid patients to receive mental health services in 2016. More than $10 million went toward providing services to those with intellectual development disabilities.
Non-Medicaid patients received about $1.7 million in mental health services over the course of the same time period.
Willis noted the latter group of patients is serviced through the state’s Integrated Payment and Reimbursement System, which provides reimbursement for patients who need care but have no health insurance.
Eads told commissioners his organization has seen an uptick in patients seeking treatment for substance use. The terminology was changed from substance “abuse,” as many patients battle opioid addictions as a result of being legally prescribed the medications by a physician.
“The percent of Medicaid patients served is moving up,” said Eads. “Folks are getting care.”
Phillips said those in need of mental health services may call Partners at 1-800-235-4673.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.