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Mental health agency seeks to meet standards to expand coverage

Monday, March 24, 2014 by Gene Davis

With more than $13 million at stake this fiscal year, Charles Harrison, chief financial officer for Austin Travis County Integral Care, told community members at a March 20 forum that a combination of projects aimed at increasing health care services for low-income residents presents both a significant opportunity and some uncertainty for the local mental health agency.


Through a combination of state and federal funds, ATCIC has implemented and expanded nine  projects that range from of a chronic disease prevention program to the expansion of crisis intervention efforts. However, each project must meet annual benchmarks to receive the funding through the 1115 Transformation Waiver process.


“This waiver is a very risky proposition, and hats off to the board of trustees of Austin Travis County Integral Care that we were willing to accept that risk and bring new service dollars to this community,” Harrison said.


ATCIC Trustee Tom Young said the importance of the projects make it imperative for the mental health authority to help as many people as possible and “not screw it up.”


“It’s less the challenge of scarcity (of funding), which is what we always talk about,” he said. “It’s more the challenge of making good use of new resources that we have.”


Under the five-year waiver, which is in its third year, the ATCIC projects could receive more than $100 million in funding. More than $58 million of that funding would come from federal dollars.


The waiver splits Texas into 20 districts. Region 7 includes Bastrop, Caldwell, Hays, Fayette, Lee and Travis counties. The waiver funds two statewide pools of approximately $29 billion.


Dr. Bill Wilson, an ATCIC accreditation facilitator, said he worried a new program that allows patients to consult with doctors via teleconferencing would not meet the required benchmark of 2,000 incidents last year. After a slow start, the telehealth project surpassed that benchmark by 13 percent.


“I will tell you that we were a little anxious about meeting the metric for a while, but we finally got enough capacity,” he said.


In addition to discussing the 1115 Transformation Waiver projects at the forum, ATCIC solicited community feedback on the FY 2015 budget. For background, Harrison explained that the FY 2014 budget is $71,705,660, most of which goes toward salaries and benefits and contracted services.


Harrison said while ATCIC is positioned to receive an influx of funding for the 1115 Transformation Waiver projects, the mental health authority could potentially see a decrease in regular state funding. State funding provided 41 percent of the ATCIC FY 2014 budget.


Louise Lynch with ATCIC said the state could reduce its funding based on the legislature’s assumption that half of the people eligible for ACA benefits would enroll and get those benefits. With more people receiving the ACA benefits, some in the legislature think community centers such at ATCIC would not require as much funding, Lynch said.


“We don’t have the specific info yet, whether there will be reductions or what they will look like, but we will be watching that closely,” she said.


For the FY 2015 budget, community members at the forum suggestions included ATCIC exploring opportunities for more service expansion and involving the faith community. Many people at the forum spoke highly of ATCIC and offered their support when needed.


“I would like to say thank you for your involvement with our community and the community leaders and the schools and residents,” said Eloise Sepeda, a forum attendee.

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