Map of mental health agencies in North Carolina.
Map of mental health agencies in North Carolina. Image courtesy Department of Health and Human Services.

By Taylor Sisk

Cumberland County Mental Health announced last week that it has merged with Alliance Behavioral Healthcare.

Though the merger took effect last week, Alliance had been managing services in Cumberland County since February, with the county’s service providers already working within the Alliance network.

Map of mental health agencies in North Carolina.
Map of mental health agencies in North Carolina, click to view larger image. Map courtesy Department of Health and Human Services.

Alliance, which also serves Durham, Wake and Johnston counties, has the largest population base of any of the state’s managed care organizations, or MCOs.

The MCOs, formerly called local management entities, are regionally based agencies that provide state- and Medicaid-funded mental health, intellectual and developmental disability and substance abuse services.

There are now 11 MCOs in the state, but soon there will be ten: Western Highlands Network is consolidating with Smoky Mountain Center after losing its state contract. After the merger, Smoky will serve 23 Western North Carolina counties.

“Operationally speaking, our staff has been a part of Alliance for months now,” said Hank Debnam, former area director of Cumberland County Mental Health, whose new title will be Alliance Cumberland site director.

“Our consumers, providers and community partners have already become integrated with the Alliance organization and we’re pleased to officially become part of such a strong, capable MCO.”

The merger must be approved by the state Department of Health and Human Services, but that’s not expected to be an issue.

ECBH offers new services

East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH) announced last month that it’s increasing the rates its service providers will receive for four services and is investing in new evidence-based practices.

“The promise of implementing the 1915(b)/(c) Waiver in the public sector was that savings achieved by effective management would be used to expand access to services,” Leza Wainwright, ECBH’s executive director, said in a press release. “Today’s announcement begins to make that promise a reality.”

Wainwright was referring to a federally approved waiver to the Social Security Act, implemented two years ago, which allowed the state’s MCOs to move from a fee-for-service payment system to a managed-care system. Managed care organizations receive a set monthly payment from the state, and with that money must provide services for everyone under their care.

After five years of declining rates, ECBH will increase the rates for psychological testing by 10 percent, personal care services by 16 percent, peer support by 7 percent and facility-based crisis and detoxification services to cover the full cost of the service.

ECBH also announced that it will be encouraging the “growth of evidence-based and promising practices by offering free training by nationally-recognized experts to providers and rate incentives for new services.”

“By thinking outside the box to develop these types of innovative strategies,” Wainwright said, “ECBH seeks to increase the quality and effectiveness of the services people in our area receive.  That is our responsibility and our commitment.”

East Carolina Behavioral Health provides services for 19 counties in the eastern part of the state.

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Rose Hoban is the founder and editor of NC Health News, as well as being the state government reporter. Hoban has been a registered nurse since 1992, but transitioned to journalism after earning degrees...