Finances forcing mental health center to close

October 05, 2004|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG PA. - Two days before the Cumberland Valley Mental Health Center closes its doors after 40 years of serving residents of Franklin and Fulton counties, clients were coming in for their final appointments Monday afternoon.

With medical assistance reimbursements failing to keep pace with health care costs, the financially strapped center will close Wednesday, but not before a planned 4 p.m. rally by supporters outside its offices at 533 S. Main St. in Chambersburg.

Approximately 2,000 mostly low- and moderate-income people served by the center will have to seek services elsewhere, said Executive Director Don Waters. More than 40 employees, including Waters, will be looking for jobs, he said.


"We're really going to be doing them a disservice if we don't get them the help they need," Waters said of the clients who come to the center for treatment and counseling. Although some services are being transferred to Keystone Health Center, Waters said many patients will lose "a trust factor."

"My therapist is very dedicated to me," said a Greencastle, Pa., woman who has obtained therapy at the center for two years. The woman, who asked to remain anonymous, said she learned Friday that she was attending her last weekly outpatient therapy session.

The woman said she suffers from manic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other afflictions. The treatment she received the past two years did more for her than five years of treatment from another provider, she said.

She said she worries that patients will lose the bond built between them and therapists and counselors.

"It's like starting all over again ... Some of us will be left out in the cold," she said.

"We'll spend a lot of time trying to match them up with services," said Kenny Wuertenberg, the executive director of the Mental Health Association of Franklin/Fulton Counties. "A large number of people who accessed services at the center had no (county) caseworker."

Wuertenberg said, "The only provider of mental health services in Fulton County was Cumberland Valley."

The center's closing could cost the community more in terms of patients who end up in emergency rooms, homeless shelters and the criminal justice system, Wuertenberg said. Families will suffer because members do not get counseling and treatment.

Waters said treatment costs have risen while reimbursements have not changed since 1999. While the cost of outpatient therapy is $75 a session, medical assistance reimburses the center $52. A session with a psychiatrist is $125, but the reimbursement is $75, he said.

"The previous year we had major losses, six-figure losses," said Waters, who did not give a specific number. The center's annual budget is about $1.6 million, he said.

"Outpatient services is like a loss leader," while other services once brought in enough revenue to balance the books, he said. The number of referrals in some of those other programs, however, began to decline, Waters said.

Another problem was patients failing to show up for appointments, he said. Mental health professionals on the staff still had to be paid whether or not clients showed up, Waters said.

Waters said the center was unable to make payroll twice earlier this year, and again last week.

"I just paid the people today - most people," Waters said. "Of course, I wasn't one of them."

Waters said he hopes most of the 41 center employees find positions with Keystone Health Center, which is taking over outpatient and crisis intervention programs, or with the mental health provider designated by the counties to provide the other services.

Wuertenberg said Wednesday's rally will be "a chance to say good-bye" and an opportunity to tell clients about available services. He said the event is also designed to raise awareness of the need for mental health services "to make sure nothing like this happens again."

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