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Austin ISD votes to switch mental health provider

Tuesday, February 16, 2021 by Sumaiya Malik, Reporting Texas

The Austin ISD Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to switch the school district’s campus mental health provider to Gramercy Specialty Clinic. 

The current partner, Vida Clinichas begun to transition out. In order to ensure that services continue without disruption, Gramercy may hire some Vida staff.

President Geronimo Rodriguez and the board of trustees voted on the switch at their Jan. 25 meeting. The item was part of a September 2020 voting meeting agenda but the trustees decided to postpone it, citing the need for further discussion.

There was some urgency to sign on a new provider. After negotiations, the contract with Vida could only be extended up to February 2021, which meant that the district would be left without a mental health provider unless a new contract was signed immediately.  

Gramercy, which has 48 offices throughout Texas, is an established mental health service provider in the state. Clinicians will start offering teletherapy counseling services to elementary, middle and high school students and staff across the AISD community.

Trustee Lynn Boswell wanted to know the timeline for when Gramercy would be up and running and able to meet the needs of students, parents and staff. “I would like to know whatever is coming next is doing a good job,” she said.

“They’re ready and able to provide teletherapy immediately, and then as we start to transition back into face-to-face clinic services,” Chief Academic Officer Elizabeth Casas said. 

As with Vida, Gramercy clinicians charge insurance in a fee-for-service model. If students have health insurance, Gramercy will bill the insurance. Gramercy also offers services to students without insurance. AISD uses local funding as well as funding from the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. The trustees have been awarded $367,000 in VOCA grant funding to pay for uninsured students. 

Trustee LaTisha Anderson expressed concerns about a student having a mental health crisis during the transition between providers. 

“Don’t miss the opportunity to include (school) counselors in this collaboration, because they will be there before the therapist and after,” she said. Anderson also requested an evaluation process at the end of six months to check the number of students who saw Gramercy therapists and the number referred out.

Casas explained that parents have been given three options: to continue with the current vendor, sign on with the new vendor or seek outside resources in the community.

Gramercy Health will be paid an initial $2.2 million over a period of five years to cover the cost of uninsured students, Health Services Director Alexandra Copeland said.

AISD identified Gramercy, an established vendor in Texas, through a request for proposal process. Trustee at Large Noelita Lugo raised concerns about the fact that Gramercy was the only respondent to the advertised RFP. 

“l have training as a contract negotiator in mental health services (and) wanted to understand what is the best practice AISD is following in this $10 million contract in a one-vendor procurement policy,” Lugo asked.

“It’s not uncommon to have one vendor,” Chief Business Officer Larry Throm said. “Sometimes (in) narrowly focused specialties there may be only one vendor.” 

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