Commentary

Condemnations of mental health execs, board continue to pour in

As today’s Weekly Briefing highlights, public officials are frequently playing with fire when they attempt to use “market forces” (mots notably, greed) as a tool in the delivery of core public structures and services. The recent flame out of the state’s largest mental health provider (Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions) offers more convincing proof of this proposition.

As today’s lead editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal (“A shameful severance”) explains, the money Cardinal attempted to bestow on its execs in a lousy imitation of life in corporate America in the age of Trump could have gone a long way toward actually helping people in need:

“The Journal’s Richard Craver reported: ‘Legislators, state health officials and health-care advocates have pointed to the $3.8 million in paid severance to four executives of Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions as a worrisome sign of exorbitant spending and private-sector greed overcoming the managed-care organization’s public-health mission. But what would $3.8 million pay for in terms of additional behavioral-health services within Cardinal’s 20-county network? The network includes Alamance, Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Rockingham and Stokes counties.

‘The Winston-Salem Journal asked a provider of mental-health and substance-abuse services in the Triad and statewide to offer estimates for seven main categories. Here’s what it could mean: As many as 26,000 initial evaluations at an average rate of $145, or 43,000 individual therapy sessions at an average rate of $88, or 12,649 bed days at a facility-based crisis center. The provider agreed to offer the estimates as long as it was not identified out of concern about being perceived as taking a side in the intense political and regulatory dispute. The provider also stressed the caveat that the state’s seven behavioral-health managed-care organizations, MCOs, may or may not be allowed by the state to use administrative money for recipient services.’

Understood. But by any reasonable measure, the packages going to former Executive Director Richard Topping and the others are far too much. The DHHS told the Journal that administrative funds can be used for consumer services but typically aren’t. Much of the money that went to severance packages could have gone to vulnerable patients in the Cardinal network, the state’s largest managed-care organization for behavioral health.

Thank goodness the state has temporarily taken over this organization. It may be too late to pull back the severance packages, but we look forward to the DHHS and county commissions choosing a new Cardinal board that will finally use public dollars well to serve our most vulnerable.”

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