County to subsidize mental health care at private agencies

By SCOTT MILLER

Staff Reporter

Mental health patients won’t receive care from St. Louis County next year, but the county is helping subsidize their care at five private agencies through March 31.

The County Council recently voted unanimously to approve legislation appropriating $200,000 for BJC Behavioral Health Services of Kirkwood to administer the new Family Mental Health Collabora-tive, a group of five private agencies that will provide mental health care to patients no longer receiving county care.

The funds should cover psychiatric and psychological evaluation and treatment for the program, which runs from now until March 31 with hopes the county will offer mental health care again in the future.

Keeping the county’s current program running throughout next year would have cost roughly $1 million.

Until Nov. 17, the county treated 500 cases, or about 1,000 patients, but budget constraints had the county Department of Health scrambling to find private agencies to pick up the load. Now 250 “active cases” will be swept to private care, said Dolores Gunn, newly appointed health director.

The remaining cases can be treated in other areas of county care, such as drug rehab. New patients requesting service aren’t eligible, however.

“Because we created the coalition, now what we’re trying to do is capture dollars for patients who are totally new (to county care). What we’re doing is trying to make sure that long-term funding (is there) so if someone comes in seven months or if some-one comes in five years from now that the funding is available,” Gunn said.

County clinics such as the one at the South County Government Center, 4546 Lemay Ferry Road, still will be used for mental care, but county employees won’t offer treatment. Instead, Catholic Family Services, Jewish Family & Children’s Ser-vice, Lutheran Family & Children’s Services and Provident Counseling will provide the care under the assistance and coordination of BJC Behavioral Health Services.

“We formed a unique coalition and it has given us the opportunity to deliver care that is equal to or better than what we previously had,” Gunn said. “It is important that we offer centralized mental health clinics and triage access for the people of St. Louis County who are currently and have been previously receiving care from us.

“We want to make sure that treatment service is geographically accessible. That would include 24 locations, which we did not have before,” she continued. “Psycho-logical testing and assessment, we will also have that, but it will be increased along with psychiatric evaluation. We will have a psychiatrist not only on site at the actual county clinic but you have a psychiatrist there, a psychologist and a medical doctor all in one place, which we did not have before.”

The $200,000 to subsidize the collaborative was left over from doctor, vendor and other health services contracts this year, Gunn said, and does not affect funding for fiscal 2005.