Push is on to save Cascadia mental health

Nonprofit – Multnomah County officials hold meetings to keep services going
From The Oregonian – May 01, 2008

Multnomah County leaders were scrambling Wednesday to craft a last-minute plan to keep mental health services operating as the state’s largest provider moved closer to collapse.

Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare learned in the late afternoon that its bank was collecting on a long-standing $2 million debt due this week, a development that the nonprofit company previously warned would likely force it to declare bankruptcy.

County officials held a series of tense emergency meetings from early morning into the night to come up with a plan to keep the system going. Participants said they couldn’t disclose details of the discussions, which included officials from the state, Cascadia and other mental health service providers.

“We’re going to do everything we can to keep the services alive for clients,” said Joanne Fuller, head of Multnomah County’s Department of Human Services. Spokesman Jim Clay said Cascadia’s 90 facilities in Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Lane and Marion counties would “absolutely” be open for business this morning.

With a $58 million budget, Cascadia provides housing, treatment and crisis response services to 23,000 people each year for ailments ranging from depression to alcohol abuse to schizophrenia.

Multnomah County urged current clients to attend scheduled treatment today and to call its mental health information line at 503-988-4888 with any questions.

Employees will still be paid, Clay said. “If that changes at any time, we would let employees know,” he said.

County officials first learned the scope of Cascadia’s financial problems about a month ago, when the company approached them with a request to guarantee millions in loans. County Chairman Ted Wheeler denied that request — as did the state Department of Human Services — but launched an ongoing audit of Cascadia’s finances and began planning to stabilize the mental health system in case the company failed.

Cascadia executives have said the company lost millions switching to a new billing system, worsening an already shaky bottom line.

Wheeler hoped that Capital Pacific Bank would provide Cascadia more time to allow that work to continue. Capital Pacific CEO Mark Stevenson said the bank has spent “enormous amounts of time” trying to reach a solution, without success, but remains open to negotiating.

Clay said Cascadia managers were busy working on survival plans. “They spent more time talking about the clients than they did about their own paychecks,” he said. “Everyone knows the consequences here.”