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Stephens Mundy, CVPH president and chief executive officer.

PLATTSBURGH -- Finally, some fiscal relief for CVPH Medical Center's Mental Health Units.

Hospital officials learned that the State Department of Health Division of Health Care Financing has approved a change to the CVPH reimbursement rate that will add about $500,000 annually to revenue generated by the two Mental Health Units.

"This is wonderful news for the patients and their families who utilize the adult and child and adolescent mental-health units," CVPH President and Chief Executive Officer Stephens Mundy said in a news release.

"It's a positive for the community, the Medical Center and, most of all, for the outstanding people who staff the two units."

ADVOCATES THRILLED

"We are extremely happy," said Kelly Jarrard, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Champlain Valley Board of Directors. "We appreciate the hard work that has gone into obtaining this money because we know it was difficult with our economic times being so challenging."

She stressed the units' importance to the community, recalling her own daughter's struggle with mental illness.

"She was hospitalized many, many times in an adult unit when she was a teenager, but she is in recovery now, and I believe that is because she had adequate treatment close by, where her family was able to be with her."

Without the CVPH Mental-Health Units, patients would be placed in facilities out of the area, with no guarantee of an open slot because of the bed shortage in New York state.

LOSSES

In 2001, CVPH's Mental Health Units lost $1.5 million, a figure exacerbated by the need to hire temporary psychiatrists, who cost more than staff physicians, because of recruiting issues.

The financial losses largely stem from inadequate reimbursements by the state for patients covered by Medicaid, about 40 percent of the total volume.

As hospital officials began seeking funds to offset the losses, local mental-health agencies worried about the possibility of CVPH closing its units.

CVPH officials appealed to New York state to improve the hospital's reimbursement rates.

The hospital heard positive news in January when the State Office of Mental Health supported its argument, but the state had not yet agreed to improve reimbursement rates for the facility.

As the hospital worked to keep its Mental-Health units alive, other problems included psychiatrists leaving for private practices and the closure of CVPH's Child and Adolescent Unit in mid May when the only full-time psychiatrist took a medical leave.

"With the commitment made by the Board of Directors at its meetings on Tuesday to support and sustain these two units, we believe that we can successfully recruit desperately needed psychiatrists and support personnel," Mundy said.

APPEAL PENDING

A second appeal pertaining to Medicaid rates is still pending. If approved, it would prevent about $150,000 in revenue declines yearly.

Over the past four years, the two Mental-Health Units combined to average about 940 patient discharges annually.

"It is now up to all of us to nurture and grow our mental-health programs," Mundy wrote in a memorandum to employees of the two units.

"There is a need, and there is great potential. Our task is to meet that need in such a way that our patients, community, staff and Medical Center all benefit."

sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

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