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Mental health transfer delayed until February [The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.]

By Gregory Phillips, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Nov. 29--The looming shift in how local mental health care is managed has been delayed a month, from Jan. 1 to Feb 1.

Alliance Behavioral Healthcare announced Wednesday it has requested permission from the state to push back the launch of its managed care organization that will oversee care in Cumberland, Durham, Wake and Johnston counties.

The state Department of Health and Human Services supported the request, its interim director said in a statement.

Starting next year, Alliance will be given the four counties' full allocation of Medicaid dollars for mental health to manage. The Cumberland County Mental Health Center will continue to oversee care locally, through a contract with Alliance.

But the agencies will act as insurance companies, authorizing care through private contractors rather than providing it directly.

Doug Fuller, an Alliance spokesman, said the need to issue credentials to a network of more than 1,500 providers contributed to the request for a delay.

"It's a massive, massive job," he said. "It's basically starting from scratch."

Since July 1, Cumberland County has been funding mental health on a short term basis, while waiting to assess the impact of the change on services under the new system in the new year. It's not clear if the delay will change that, since Alliance still expects to start managing state and locally-funded services for Cumberland County starting Dec. 17.

Hank Debnam, mental health director for Cumberland County, said other agencies across the state also requested the delay.

"It makes sense to be prepared, to make sure we have all our bases covered," he said.

Although concerns persist about whether there will be sufficient funding to maintain services under the new model, Debnam said this delay alone should not affect consumers.

"It should be a seamless-type situation," he said.

Staff writer Gregory Phillips can be reached at or 486-3596.

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