City Desk

District To Privatize City-Run Mental Health Centers

As WJLA reported last night, and DCist noted this morning, the D.C. Department of Mental Health wants to shutter its mental health centers and replace them with privately-run facilities.

City Desk reached DMH this afternoon for comment.

“We’re doing it," says Director Stephen T. Baron. "But we’re not doing it until ’09." This should not shock anyone who either a) works at DMH or b) follows DMH closely. The department had been pushed to assess its mental health centers for a while. This past summer, it hired KPMG to study whether the centers should go private. The departmental back story is referenced in a report released earlier this month.

The conclusion of the study, Baron says is simple: If DMH privatizes its centers, it will save a lot of money and have a chance to increase the number of residents it helps. The department would save between $11 and $14 million.

The savings would come from an obvious source. "I think frankly it comes down to labor costs and the benefits," says Phyllis Jones, DMH's spokesperson. "The private providers tend to have cheaper labor costs.”

The private providers already cover 60 percent of the city's outpatient care. Think Green Door. Think Community Connections. Baron says his department may begin transitioning residents from its centers to the private facilities in the coming months. A transition plan must be completed by the end of the year with full implementation to be completed by next fall.

What that will mean for the 260 city workers is up in the air. “I would think there’s tremendous anxiety about losing their jobs," Baron says. "We are not doing anything immediately.” He hopes to retain as many employees as he can. But adds maybe some can move to the troubled CFSA.

Still, Baron thinks the privatization will mean more services for residents. “That’s our goal," Baron says, "to have as many different access points...and without losing focus on serious mental illness."

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