Heroes and big ques­tions af­ter Tri-County closes

The Taos News - - FAVOR Y CONTRA -

Taos, Col­fax and Union counties faced a be­hav­ioral health cri­sis when Tri-County Com­mu­nity Ser­vices sud­denly an­nounced it would close with barely two weeks no­tice.

Ev­ery­one from the state’s top of­fi­cials to health­care providers seemed caught off guard. More than 1,000 clients won­dered how they would get the treat­ment, coun­sel­ing, med­i­ca­tion and life help they had come to rely on from Tri-County ser­vices.

Tri-County staff along with other non­profit providers gamely stepped in and pulled off a mir­a­cle in two weeks. Work­ing with state Be­hav­ioral Health Ser­vices, they made sure most of the Tri-County pro­grams were trans­ferred to an­other or­ga­ni­za­tion and that clients will get the help they need.

It was a Her­culean ef­fort. The Tri-County CEO skipped out be­fore the fi­nal days, and the board seemed largely ab­sent. But core staff worked to the bit­ter end in the of­fice help­ing clients. Ted Wiard at Golden Wil­low Re­treat and Tammy Jaramillo at Taos County de­serve ex­tra ac­co­lades for co­or­di­nat­ing ef­forts.

Still, we are left with many dis­turb­ing ques­tions and deep con­cerns that no one with the state or the now-de­funct Tri-County seem will­ing to an­swer clearly, sim­ply and trans­par­ently. We worry whether the groups that are tak­ing over this sud­den in­flux of hun­dreds of clients mid­way through the year will avoid the fi­nan­cial trou­bles that helped sink Tri-County.

We ask the fol­low­ing ques­tions be­cause it is im­per­a­tive that no one, least of all the clients most in need, are caught off guard again.

• Why wasn’t there a backup plan al­ready in place in case Tri-County failed? The most re­cent board and the state BHS have known for more than a year the non­profit was in deep fi­nan­cial trou­ble. While the lat­est board was ad­mirable in its ef­forts to save the or­ga­ni­za­tion, they and the CEO should have had a con­tin­gency plan in place. Peo­ple’s lives and well-be­ing were at stake.

• Of all the bills it needed to pay, why didn’t Tri­County en­sure the elec­tronic records com­pany was sat­is­fied, so providers and pa­tients could get med­i­cal records be­fore the doors closed for good? Af­ter all providers and pa­tients are legally en­ti­tled to those records. And did Tri-County not keep old-fash­ioned pa­per records it could sim­ply have handed over?

• Who the heck was re­ally keep­ing tabs on Tri­County? Did the state not of­fer the help it should have or was its of­fer of help ig­nored? Be­hav­ioral Health Ser­vices di­rec­tor Wayne Lind­strom laid the blame on ev­ery­one at Tri-County, from its of­fice staff (they didn’t know how to bill prop­erly, so bills were de­nied by in­sur­ance com­pa­nies), to its CEO to its board (they didn’t know what they were do­ing). The state says it can’t tell a pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tion how to man­age its af­fairs, but it can of­fer tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance on busi­ness and clin­i­cal ser­vice man­age­ment.

• Did Fall­ing Col­ors, a third-party con­trac­tor hired by the state to man­age pay­ments other than Med­i­caid, have a part in the Tri-County fi­asco? Were they do­ing their job prop­erly and en­sur­ing Tri-County was re­ceiv­ing its pay­ments in a timely man­ner?

• Fi­nally, will Valle del Sol, one of the pri­mary be­hav­ioral health or­ga­ni­za­tions told by the state to take on part of Tri-County’s load, stick around? It is worth re­mem­ber­ing Valle del Sol was one of five Ari­zona based be­hav­ioral health or­ga­ni­za­tions paid mil­lions by the state to take over af­ter Gov. Su­sana Martinez’s ad­min­is­tra­tion in 2013 up­ended ex­ist­ing ser­vices by wrongly ac­cus­ing providers of fraud and freez­ing their Med­i­caid pay­ments.

All of the providers were ex­on­er­ated, but most closed in the mean­time due to fi­nan­cial stress. Three of the five Ari­zona com­pa­nies left af­ter only a cou­ple of years.

Valle del Sol threat­ened to leave in De­cem­ber 2016 due to “high rates of claims de­nial and con­tin­u­ing de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of rates paid for ser­vices,” ac­cord­ing to a state re­port.

And once again, the im­pend­ing ter­mi­na­tion of ser­vices “was to­tally unan­tic­i­pated,” said the state at the time.

Valle del Sol laid off staff and shrank ser­vices un­til April 2017 when they struck a deal with the state and re­ceived some ex­tra money to stay.

So, we ask, if the go­ing gets tough and their pay­ments are mis­han­dled or cut, will Valle del Sol stick around? Will the state be again caught off guard? What will hap­pen to all of their new coun­selors and ther­a­pists? What will hap­pen to all of their new pa­tients?

Who, ul­ti­mately, re­ally has the backs of some of the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in our state?

It is time for state law­mak­ers and who­ever is elected gov­er­nor in Novem­ber to step in and take a hard look at New Mex­ico’s en­tire be­hav­ioral health sys­tem – to en­sure proper checks and bal­ances are in place, to en­sure pub­lic funds are wisely used and to make sure peo­ple most in need aren’t left in the lurch.

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