Network 180 doing lots of prevention work

June 29, 2012
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Network 180, Kent County’s official mental-health service provider, cared for 96,378 individuals across four health categories last year, some of whom needed assistance in more than one of the categories. Others who received help didn’t have insurance coverage to pay for their treatments.

In addition, the nonprofit agency provided 78,527 children and substance abusers with prevention services in 2011.

“We do an awful lot of prevention work,” said Paul Ippel, Network 180 executive director, to Kent County commissioners recently.

Network 180 serves clients with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses and substance abuse problems. The agency also counsels children and families who are burdened with emotional disorders. The organization regularly treats those without insurance coverage.

“A lot of folks are accessing our services,” said Ippel.

The agency treated 3,216 individuals for substance abuse last year, 8,524 with mental illnesses and 1,878 with development disorders. Another 5,600 were screened for mental illness and 3,216 for disorders involving substance abuse. In 2011, 83,000 calls were made to Network 180’s 24-hour access line; 8,800 persons visited the agency’s access center at 790 Fuller Ave. NE. The organization’s website received nearly 50,000 visits last year.

The agency’s annual budget is $143 million, with $112.5 million of that coming from Medicaid. The county gives Network 180 $2 million each year in county funds and another $2 million annually from the state liquor tax. The county splits its liquor-tax revenue with the agency. The money Network 180 receives from that levy has to go toward treating substance abuse. Network 180 then uses the county funds as a match to qualify for Medicaid.

“The county’s contribution to us is a little more than $4 million,” said Ippel. “Those (dollars) are really critical.”

Even though the organization left the county as an official department in 2003 to become a “mental health authority,” the county has maintained a close working relationship with Network 180. In addition to the financial support, county commissioners Jim Talen, Harold Mast and Stan Ponstein serve on the Network 180 board of directors.

Ippel told commissioners that health care reform is critical for his organization and the provider industry, in general. He said reform has to expand access to care but also place an emphasis on prevention and early intervention, and improve the quality of services through better outcomes. It also has to control and even reduce the cost of care. “The country is spending nearly 17 percent of its GDP (on health care), and we need to control that,” he said.

Another key action Ippel pointed out was a need to combine mental health services with physical care. He said his agency is closely tied with Spectrum Health at its Center for Integrative Medicine. “We worked with them to open a clinic on Sheldon and we’ve seen over 300 clients there,” he said. “And they’ve avoided using the emergency rooms.”

Spectrum Health opened the center last December at 75 Sheldon NE in an effort to assess and treat patients who frequent emergency departments at least 10 times each year. The patients are mostly young individuals with hard-to-diagnosis conditions, mental illnesses, chronic pain and addiction to substances.

Spectrum wanted to staff the center with a mental health provider, and Network 180 qualified. The center is expected to save about $15 million in emergency department costs in its first year.

“This model of care is a win for patients, providers and insurers. We’re dealing with patients who need an in-depth care plan and a continuum of care that can’t be delivered efficiently in an ED setting,” said R. Corey Waller, an emergency and medicine specialist at Spectrum and the center’s director, in a statement.

Network 180 does the mental health and addiction assessments and creates treatment plans as part of the center’s patient evaluations.

Ippel said the state Department of Community Health is working on two initiatives that should help his agency in the near future. One is a plan that would make it easier to deliver services for clients who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid.

Network 180 also treats persons in the Kent County Jail. Last year, the agency conducted 18,293 assessments. Network 180 also served 529 clients in the jail’s mental health section and 265 more who were trying to kick an alcohol-addiction problem. The agency also evaluated 140 clients in the adult jail division and was able to divert 27 from the lock-up after they were booked.

“We’ve been able to reach out to more families. We have diverted people from the jail system,” said Ippel. “Obviously, though, we haven’t done enough yet.”

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