Mental-health program given a reprieve

Teens and children with mental-health and substance-abuse problems will continue to receive help from Behavioral Health Services for another six months.

A Carson Tahoe Regional Healthcare official said Wednesday that it will delay closing the outpatient program for adolescents, which was part of its cost-cutting reorganization. This decision comes after a public outcry from patients and parents.

"Other funding sources will now help us keep the program open to the end of the year, or beyond, if it's financially viable," said Cheri Glockner, hospital spokeswoman.

But it's not immediately clear where that funding is coming from. The hospital requested that both Carson City and the school district contribute some funds to cover the programs used by it and Juvenile Probation. The hospital also expects to receive more from Medicaid reimbursements.

School district Superintendent Mary Pierczynski said the hospital would have to make the request before the school board before any funds are granted.

Carson City Mayor Marv Teixeira said he will take the hospital's request for funding assistance to the city board of supervisors' meeting in July. He said the amount would be small.

"I compliment the hospital on reconsidering their position because this is a much-needed facility for those kids," he said.

The decision to delay the closure comes as a relief to 16-year-old Jacqueline Johnson of Carson City. After the announcement about two weeks ago that the comprehensive program would close at the end of June, Johnson decided that she'd rather leave the program than look for another teen counseling group in the area to help with her depression. The Carson High School student, who credited the counseling group with saving her life, said she'll probably keep going to the group once a week.

"I think that's really good for a lot of the kids," she said. "I think that's going to help because a lot of the kids were afraid to lose the program."

Glockner estimated that half of the 745 patients in the outpatient Behavioral Health Services program are adolescents. They will continue to receive counseling, use of the ADHD clinic and intensive outpatient services. General support to schools and Juvenile Probation will also be continued to the end of the year.

Parents said Behavioral Health Services provides care that is unique to the area, such as counseling groups for parents of children with mental and substance-abuse problems.

If it closes, government programs that have referred adolescents to the program since 1998 will have to use other resources, which some say are limited or at capacity. Carson City School District and Juvenile Probation recommends the program to parents. Behavioral Health Services also trains teachers about mental-health and educational disorders. The program has from eight to 10 employees.

The hospital spokeswoman cited the low reimbursement rate on mental-health services from insurance and Medicaid/Medicare as reason for cutting the outpatient program. The hospital subsidized the outpatient mental health program for $350,000 in 2005. Inpatient mental health care will not be affected. The adult outpatient care will still be cut at the end of the month.

Up to 50 employees were laid off and several departments were cut or consolidated as part of the private, nonprofit medical system's reorganization. This came six months after the opening of the $132 million Carson Tahoe Regional Medical Center in north Carson City.

Assemblywoman Bonnie Parnell, D-Carson City, said the delay will give officials time to discuss what can be done to keep the program going.

"Every parent or grandparent who has called me in the last 10 days says that they think so much of the child and adolescent program that they offer," she said. "They say that they've been to other places and never had success until they came to this program."

The state hasn't given any promises about funding the program. Changes in Medicaid law five months ago should provide the hospital with more reimbursement for services done by child mental health therapists, said Charles Duarte, administrator of the state Division of Health Care Financing and Policy. He said the program doesn't have a large number of Medicaid patients, so he isn't sure how much of an effect it could make.

Pam Cowperthwaite, who has a 16-year-old son who uses the mental health counseling, said she is happy about the reprieve, but she is concerned about the uncertainty of funding for the program.

"I know it's open until the end of the year, which gives the clinicians time to work out another plan," she said. "Yes, I'd like to see it open indefinitely, but this is the next best alternative."

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.


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