A Haines non-profit that has provided behavioral health care in the Upper Lynn Canal for the past 30 years is consolidating with the local tribal health center due to state budget reductions and an increased demand for services.
Lynn Canal Counseling Services and Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, or SEARHC, plan to consolidate at the beginning of October. LCCS will essentially become a behavioral health department of SEARHC.
LCCS Executive Director Kelly Williamson says the road to consolidation started last October. She found out that a grant which makes up 40 percent of the service’s budget was set to be ‘drastically reduced’ in FY 2017. The grant is Alaska’s Comprehensive Behavioral Health Treatment and Recovery Grant, which Williamson says provides LCCS with $275,000.
Williamson says the grant uncertainty, along with looming proposed cuts to Medicaid, made her worry about how the non-profit could withstand that kind of shortfall.
“I was sad, as a clinician, just because I’m so passionate about what I do as a therapist and I truly care about people that are struggling,” Williamson said. “And it was really frightening to think that this community may not be cared for in a way that it deserves to be cared for.”
LCCS Board of Directors Chair Jansy Hansen says, at the same time, the counseling service has seen an increase in demand for behavioral health care among resident of Haines, Klukwan and Skagway.
“The last year or so there’s been a huge demand for services in this community, and we’ve had a hard time keeping up with it,” Hansen said. “And there’s a big need here.”
LCCS and SEARHC directors say they feel consolidation is the most responsible thing to do for the community. They say, by taking away duplicative services and streamlining behavioral health care, there will be better and even expanded services in Haines.
Here’s what it will look like: LCCS will lose one administrative position, but retain the six other staff. SEARHC will take on all administrative duties like payroll, grant-writing, grant support, HR, and billing. That’ll give Williamson and other staff more time to see patients. LCCS will operate out of the same building, with the same name. The three behavioral health staff at SEARHC may work out of the LCCS building, although that’s one detail that hasn’t been finalized.
“Basically Lynn Canal Counseling Services will cease to exist other than for the name,” said SEARHC Chief Operating Officer Dan Neumeister. “The 501c3 nonprofit category will go away, it will merge into SEARHC’s 501c3 non profit status. The board for Lynn Canal Services will cease to exist as of October 1.”
Two members of the LCCS board, along with LCCS and SEARHC staff, will form a transitional advisory council to facilitate the change.
“What we are very pleased with is Lynn Canal Counseling has done a great job,” said Neumeister. “It created a legacy for who they are. We want to respect that, honor that, and also continues the name. So Lynn Canal Counseling will basically be a behavioral health department within SEARHC.”
SEARHC and LCCS say they will jointly offer services that include therapy and case management, children’s services, crisis intervention and urgent care, substance abuse counseling and prevention, psychiatric care, outpatient substance abuse treatment, and psychological testing.
Williamson says L CCS clients will be able to continue seeing their same case managers or clinicians.
The boards of directors for LCCS and SEARHC both voted unanimously for the consolidation. Williamson says they told employees Tuesday, shortly before sending out a press release and organizing a press conference about the decision.
“There’s some concern, change is very scary for people,” Williamson said. “We did a concentrated effort today to try and reduce the amount of anxiety and fear and concerns. And I think there’s a lot of excitement to bring it together.”
And Williamson says the fear that she felt after learning of the financial uncertainty last fall has diminished.
“I have such a sense of relief just knowing that the people in this community who need our services aren’t going to go without,” she said. “I’m thrilled and I’m just so relieved that we’re getting ahead of it. Instead of waiting for the boulder to fall next year, we’ll have rolled ahead of that and we’ll be here and we’ll be good and no one will have to not get what they need.”
In the next eight weeks, SEARHC and LCCS will work on transitioning into consolidation. Their goal is for the transition to take effect by October 1st.