/ Modified jan 30, 2015 7:03 p.m.

METRO WEEK: Behavioral Health Changes Coming to Southern Arizona

New company will distribute state, federal funding to local service providers; service effects unknown.

A new company will manage the behavioral health system in Pima County beginning in October, ending a 20-year tenure for the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona.

The state selected Cenpatico of Arizona in a competitive bidding process to be the Regional Behavioral Health Agency, which is an umbrella organization that manages behavioral health care and distributes state and federal funding to health care providers.

New Manager
Cenpatico has 10 years of experience as the RHBA for eight Arizona counties and will operate locally with the name Cenpatico Integrated Care in partnership with the University of Arizona Health Network, said Terry Stevens, CEO of Cenpatico of Arizona.

Cenpatico's five-year Pima County contract begins Oct. 1.

"Over the last year we worked on a process to find a physical health provider that would work with us, because part of this contract will be integrating physical health to the behavioral health for persons with serious mental illness," Stevens said.

Cenpatico plans to improve the crisis response system, including better care for people under a judge's supervision, or who are in jail, and new programs for children in the foster care system, she said.

"We have a number of new programs that we'll be implementing with that program, as well as some programs for kids and adults with developmental disabilities and some additional employment programs for persons with a serious mental illness," she said.

Cenpatico manages more rural county systems now, and will be learning how to serve a more urban population, Stevens said.

Appealing the Award
The Community Partnership of Southern Arizona and United Healthcare are appealing the contract award to Cenpatico and the UA Health Network.

Cenpatico plans to move ahead unless a judge orders it to hold off during the appeal process, Stevens said.

If CPSA 's appeals falls short, it will seek to transition to another role, because it was created to improve the mental health care system in Pima County, CEO Neal Cash said.

"[The] community came together to try and figure out how to do a better job of managing a behavioral health system. We bid on the system in 1995 and it was based on some guiding principles that are as true today as they were 20-years ago," he said.

Those principles include integrating consumer and family representation within the organization, collaboration with the community and reinvesting more than $70 million into healthcare programs in Pima County, he said.

Patient Impact "We have about 35,000 people in continuous care and in addition to that we're also providing crisis services to the entire county," Cash said.

Cenpatico plans to work first on maintaining service to those people, Stevens said. That entails setting up new contracts with those healthcare providers already in the county system with CPSA, and make sure patients continue to get the same services they had before, she said.

"We probably will make very few changes up to about 90 days after the contract goes into effect on Oct. 1," she said. "Then slowly you implement the changes that you promised."

One thing Stevens ensured is patients' primary care doctors will not change if patients don't want to make a change. But Cenpatico plans to expand patient options so that people could see doctors in different healthcare networks if they wish, she said.

"Today, if you're assigned to one network you can only see the providers in that network, and in the future we will have all the providers that are willing in the Pima County area available to all the members," Stevens said.

For the next nine months, CPSA plans to ensure the quality of patient care continues, that providers can continue in the county-wide system if they chose to do so, and plan to help CPSA employees get other jobs in the industry locally, Cash said.

CPSA will also work to redefine its role in Tucson, he said.

"We want to stay very active in this community. We feel like we've been part of this community for 20 years and I think that we've put a lot of effort back into the community, not to mention $78 million that we've put back into this community in monies that we could have kept for profit, and that was part of our mission," Cash said.

Community Partners Inc., the parent company of CPSA, also manages housing and employment programs, runs an outpatient facility, he said.

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