By Crystal Garrett - Halifax Media Service
Published: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 at 06:14 PM.
The shrill sound of whistles Tuesday morning announced the launch of Trillium Health Resources, a newly combined mental health service agency that will serve patients in 24 counties in Eastern North Carolina.
When Deputy N.C. Health and Human Services Secretary Dave Richard stepped up to the podium during the consolidation ceremony formalizing the merger between CoastalCare and East Carolina Behavioral Health (ECBH), he celebrated by blowing a whistle.
It was a small gesture, but it was symbolic of much more.
The consolidation of the two publicly funded agencies can mean the difference between living and simply surviving.
That was the message delivered by Richard, who is responsible for leading the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ (DHHS) effort to create a continuum of care in the behavioral health arena by overseeing the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services, and the Division of State Operated Healthcare Facilities.
“What this means is that no longer will a child with disabilities have to wait for years for services that will allow the family to live the life they want to lead,” Richard said. “This means that when someone who has been struggling with a substance abuse disorder finally wakes up and decides that today is the day they will seek help, they will receive it. We know that if they have to wait for help, chances are they won’t receive it.”
The intent of the merger is to knock down the boundaries that block people from receiving the care they need.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” Richard said. “It’s not just about cost-efficiency. It’s because we believe the public mental health system in North Carolina should be strong and sustainable. We should be seen as a leader across the country and, if we’re not, we have to figure out why.”
The merger has been in the making for 15 months, according to Leza Wainwright, who will lead the new agency as CEO beginning July 1, which is the official date of the merger. Wainwright currently serves as the CEO for Greenville-based ECBH.
The new public agency will manage state funds and Medicaid dollars for behavioral health services throughout the area, which includes Onslow, Carteret, Jones, Craven, New Hanover and Pender counties.
A state Medicaid waiver in 2011 allowed public mental health agencies to move from a fee-for-service system to a managed care system. In order to meet the demands of the population and operational requirements to manage Medicaid dollars, agencies across the state began to consolidate to form Managed Care Organizations. All 100 counties have been operating under the Medicaid Waiver model since March 2013, according to a joint release issued by the two agencies.
This consolidation falls in line with the plan proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory’s initiative “Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina” and DHHS’ expectations. The plan is to continue operating regionally based organizations while consolidating the existing nine organizations across the state to four.
During the first year of the Medicaid Waiver, more than $150 million in taxpayer funds were saved, the release said.
It was at New Bern Riverfront Convention Center that the official signing of the merger agreement occurred. And to demonstrate the intent of transparency of the two entities, each employee of the individual agencies, along with representatives from the media, were invited.
“The philosophy of Governor McCrory and Secretary (Aldona Zofia) Wos is to listen and help people while also engaging them,” Richard said.
CoastalCare’s CEO Foster Norman will retire prior to the merger, but he is optimistic on its ability to produce tangible results.
“I believe this will create a stronger organization that will be better able to meet the needs of all communities in all 24 counties,” Norman said.
Wainwright added the merger creates the ability for the organization to meet an individual’s specific needs.
“When we pool our resources, we have more people and the ability to specialize,” she said.
In his closing remarks to the more than 400 employees of the two agencies, Richard praised the providers for the work they do on a daily basis. He also challenged them as well.
“When I hear someone say, ‘Think outside the box,’ I think to myself, forget the box,” he said. “You have to go out of the box — not only to transform lives but to transform the system.”
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