County approves health care merger

A behavioral health organization will serve nearly 1 million people in eight counties when three groups complete a planned merger.

Catawba County commissioners approved an intent-to-merge agreement on Monday that allows Mental Health Partners (MHP) to join with two regional service providers. The merger between the behavioral healthcare groups will create a Managed Care Organization that will serve eight counties.

Mental Health Partners currently provides mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services to Catawba and Burke counties. MHP’s merger with Crossroads Behavioral Healthcare and Pathways local management entities will create a new organization that will serve residents in Burke, Catawba, Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Surry and Yancey counties.

The merger stems from new state law that requires local management entities like MHP to serve a population of at least 500,000. With the merger, the new organization will serve about 906,000, said John Hardy, Mental Health Partners director.

Hardy said the MHP Board of Directors has approved the merger, and the other management entities are also meeting with their respective commissioners in other counties. Though the merger is planned to take effect by July 1, 2012, Hardy said some of the specifics could change based on changes in state law.

“Between now and July 1, there could be some modifications to the merger details based on alterations from the general assembly,” Hardy said. “But that doesn’t have anything to do with moving forward. We have to move forward with what we have today.”

Board members from the three merging parties met Aug. 20 to hash out the details and reached a consensus on the issues, said Catawba County Commissioner Randy Isenhower, adding that the merger would provide for up to a 26-member board.

In other county business:

Commissioners agreed to refinance county debt to take advantage of lower interest rates subject to certain restrictions. County officials said the move could save a total of $2 million throughout the next 17 years. The debt is for the area school systems and Catawba Valley Community College.

Commissioners approved a request from Hickory Public Schools to dedicate $131,439.69 in available lottery funds to provide additional funding to the Hickory Career & Arts Magnet (HCAM) School renovation project. These funds will be used to make needed renovations to the former College Park Middle School building to support program needs for criminal justice, drama, culinary, graphic design and photography classes.

Catawba County Finance Director Rodney Miller informed the commissioners that a large oak tree juxtaposing the 1924 courthouse in Newton will have to be cut down because of root rot. Miller said it will be removed later this month.