Agency may get review status

Durham Center jousts with state

Staff WriterFebruary 9, 2006 

Though Durham's mental health agency is losing its ability to authorize and manage health-care services, a state official said Wednesday he thinks the county department may eventually regain the proper certification.

A week ago, The Durham Center got word from the state Department of Health and Human Services that under a new administrative reorganization it would not be selected as one of a handful of sites across the state allowed to conduct "utilization review" -- essentially the power to authorize and oversee health services for its clients. The center has the authority now but stands to lose it in the restructuring, which is under way in an attempt to cut annual costs by $28 million.

The center's governing board, vexed by what it deemed an insufficient explanation, quickly fired off a letter to the state agency last week requesting more information. The board plans to discuss the issue at a meeting this afternoon.

On Wednesday, the head of the state agency's mental health division said The Durham Center simply hadn't scored as well on an evaluation as some others but still appears able to improve and receive the certification.

"What we were saying to Durham and some others is that you're not ready now, but you have the ability to build the capacity to perform the function," said Mike Moseley, division director for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance-abuse services.

Ellen Holliman, director of The Durham Center, said Wednesday that her agency has received no official information from the state other than one phone call last week and is still largely in the dark about what's expected of it.

"To be real honest, it's hard for us to know what they're requiring," Holliman said, "because according to what we know, we've met their criteria. What is it they want us to do?"

The Durham Center has been conducting utilization review for about three years and authorizes, on average, about 3,000 health services each month. The loss of certification could cost the agency $1 million in annual state funding, officials have said. It might also result in less personal care to clients and might increase the number of people in state hospitals, center officials have said, because they might not be advised to seek specialized care.

Staff writer Eric Ferreri can be reached at 956-2415 or eric.ferreri@newsobserver.com.

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