Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 29, 2013

Northern Lakes to join board

By Anne Stanton
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A Northern Lakes Community Mental Health board member said a new state mandate will add “one more layer of bureaucracy” and mean a loss of local control over federal Medicaid dollars.

The state required the agency to consolidate with four other community mental health agencies into what’s called a pre-paid inpatient health plan, or PIHP. Three members of each of the five agencies will sit on the new Northern Michigan Region Entity board that comes into existence on Jan. 1, 2014.

“It’s one more layer of bureaucracy,” said board member Jack Mahank, who volunteered to serve on the 15-member PIHP board.

“My reservations always are the further the oversight of funding from the people whose money it is, the less it finally gets back to the people,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The Northern Lakes CMH board will remain intact, but Mahank worries that federal Medicaid dollars — the bulwark of revenues for the agency — will now be funneled to Northern Lakes through the PIHP, which will assume all reporting responsibilities. The new PIHP board will oversee the northernmost 21 counties in the northern lower peninsula.

Northern Lakes Community Mental Health currently oversees services for adults with mental illness, developmental disabilities and children with serious emotional disturbances in a six-county area: Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Crawford, Roscommon, Wexford and Missaukee. Substance abuses services will be added under the new plan.

The board recently was asked to approve new bylaws in time for an April 1 state-imposed deadline. The board hit a snag because the bylaws included approval of an operating agreement.

“I have a problem with that,” said board member Tom Van Pelt. “It says we have already approved the operating agreement, but we haven’t even seen the operating agreement. To have approval of something we haven’t even seen is not fiscally responsible.”

The board has only seen a draft of the operating agreement, he said.

Mahank proposed changing the bylaws to indicate board approval is subsequent to review of the final operating agreement. Van Pelt wasn’t convinced and cast the sole “no” vote.

Mahank explained that the consolidation is driven federally. In order for Michigan to retain its ability to retain count-run community mental health agencies, it had to prove that it was making efforts toward regionalization. In theory, it will improve administrative efficiencies, but Mahank said it means decision making gets “further and further away from local communities.”