Funding cut to Whitsitt, other treatment centers
CHESTERTOWN — The A. F. Whitsitt Center and several other Maryland inpatient drug treatment centers are about to lose state funding.
In a phone interview Jan. 12, Dr. Leland Spencer, Kent County health officer, said the Whitsitt Center will be moving to a “fee for services” structure rather than being grant funded by the state. This means the facility, along with others throughout the state, will have to get pre-approval for patients’ insurance coverage.
Spencer said Maryland has received a waiver from the federal government that would allow Medicare and Medicaid to pay for those services. “We’re not closing the center, it’s just a different funding model,” he said.
Spencer said the benefit to the state would be that some of the cost of the center’s services would be borne by the federal government instead of the state carrying the whole load. “I don’t think (the state) thinks it will impact access to care,” he said.
As described on the health department website, “The A. F. Whitsitt Center is a 24-hour, seven-day-aweek residential treatment facility offering treatment to adults ages 18 and over suffering from chemical dependency and co-occurring disorders.”
The center also offers medically monitored detoxification for alcohol-, opiate- and benzodiazepinedependent individuals, the website said.
Tim Dove, outpatient addiction director at the Whitsitt Center, said in a phone interview Tuesday, “It’s going to be a major task to adjust our billing process,” he said.“We’re looking at various models, trying to figure out how to steamline the process.”
Previously, Dove said, state facilities did not bill patients. He said the state treatment centers, including the Whitsitt Center, will be looking at how hospitals and other private providers handle billing and insurance.
Under the state-supported system, Dove said, the Whitsitt Center was able to keep patients as long as it needed to detoxify them, then move them to halfway houses and other facilities to complete their treament. But, he said, insurance companies don’t want to pay for longer stays in treatment. He gave the example of childbirth, where a mother and child are encouraged to leave the hospital as soon after delivery as they can safely do so.
Dove said the fee-for-services model would probably lead to similar policies. One approach could be for the Whitsitt Center to stabilize patients before sending them to private practitioners to complete their rehabilitation, he said. “We’re doing our very best to make sure the services don’t go away,” he said.
“It’s a sad thing,” Dove said. “Here we are in a (drug) epidemic.” He said there were more than 1,400 overdose deaths, from all kinds of drugs, in Maryland last year.
In addition to changing the funding model for the Whitsitt Center, Spencer said the state defunded outpatient rehabilitiation services at the beginning of January. “Luckily, we had some private providers move in,” he said.
Historically, the Whitsitt Center served an average of 140 outpatients at any given time, Dove said. With the elimination of state funding for outpatient treatment, that case load is now shifted to private providers, he said.
Dove said Kent County residents have better access to private providers than those in other Maryland counties. He mentioned Healthy Connections, which opened a Chestertown branch in December. Part of a mid-Atlantic chain of addiction centers, it offers suboxone treatment for addicted individuals.
Opiate antagonist drugs like suboxone or vivitrol can go a long way toward helping addicts recover, Dove said. Vivitrol, which is injected once a month, and suboxone block the pleasureable effect of heroin and other opiates. In addition to these antagonist drugs, counseling is usually part of an effective recovery program.
“We don’t know what the final impact of the funding change will be,” Spencer said. “We may need to do some belt tightening or restructuring. But we’ll have something there.” He said he would have a better idea of the exact effect of the new model in March, when information on the new rates is released by the state.
The A.F. Whitsitt Center in Chestertown, a treatment center for drug and alcohol dependency, is facing changes in its funding model due to statewide budget cuts.