Mental health agencies become one – Unity Inc

From the Portland Business Journal, September 6, 1998

Efficiency and expanded services are the goal of three private nonprofit mental health providers in Multnomah County that have come together to form Unity Inc.

The entities continue to do business under their old names–Mental Health Services West, Northeast Mental Health Services (Garlington Center) and Delaunay Family of Services.

The three agencies have a combined budget of about $15 million. That’s down from a year ago when the three independents together would have had a budget of about $19 million.

“The pressure behind the merger, the business reason is the pressure of funding reductions,” explained Kristin Angell, chief executive officer of Unity and former head of Mental Health Services West. Just about all financing for mental health have tightened up, she said, including the federal Housing and Urban Development, Medicare and Medicaid.

Even though Medicaid has expanded mental health service clientele in recent years, Angell said, the amount of services covered has shrank.

Unity provides adult and children’s mental health services, residential care and outreach. It serves about 3,000 clients monthly, and has about 312 full-time staffers at 35 sites.

Angell said the merger has reduced administrative duplications, and the entity can now look for ways to efficiently consolidate and expand services.

“Now that we have completed the legal and financial aspects of merging the agencies together, we’re really stepping out into what we can do service wise,” said Angell.

One advantage of the merger is broader geographic reach for the services. For example, Unity now can provide joint employment services through a mobile unit, rotating it more efficiently around various sites than it could have been operated before. It’s also working on creating a joint site for drop-in services, something neither of the trio could have afforded earlier.

Similarly the various operations had different specialty offerings that can now be offered to the group as a whole, such as services for so-called dual-diagnosis patients. Those are patients with both mental illness and chemical dependency issues–a particularly tough group to diagnose and treat.

The bulk of the corporate belt tightening has happened. Mental Health Services, the largest of the three, already laid off about 30 of its 250 staff prior to joining with the other nonprofits.

Mental Health in April absorbed the financially ailing Garlington, and then recently merged operations with Delaunay.

Delaunay’s former director, Dolores Morgan, is Unity’s chief operations officer.

Angell said Unity’s sites want to maintain as much individual character as possible, because each entity treats some unique populations with different needs. At the same time, however, she hopes the various services can benefit from the expanded expertise.

“The services don’t have to look the same and be delivered the same,” Angell said. “Obviously there has to be some standardization.