Sometimes bigger is better. Recognizing the value of a strategic alliance, the Boards of Directors of Family & Children’s Society and Family Counseling Services of Cortland County (FCS Cortland) have decided to merge the two agencies. The merger will bring about some exciting changes that will expand services, introduce new programs and ensure that the agency continues to serve the people of this community for another 75 years. FCS Cortland CEO Lisa Hoeschele will lead the newly merged organization.
Recently, Hoeschele sat down to help readers understand how the merger impacts clients and the community.
What are you most excited about related to the merger?
I’m excited about the expansion of our school-based counseling program which is at the very heart of our mission, providing behavioral health services for youth at a critical time in their development. With the merger, we have doubled the number of school-based mental health clinics in Broome County and hope to add more in the future. The need is clearly there: Over the past five years, the Care Compass Network reports a 107% increase in the number of elementary school students with a behavioral health diagnosis.
There are so many advantages of a site-based model. We know that attendance rates are better and there is more opportunity for collaboration with school staff. This model helps reduce the cost for families since they don’t have to take time off from work to bring their child to appointments, but parents remain an integral part of their child’s intervention plan. School-based services really help in rural communities, eliminating transportation as an access barrier.
Will the organization be adding or expanding other services?
The merger provides an opportunity to do many things that will benefit the communities we serve. Our clinics now offer same-day access, eliminating a lengthy wait for services. We want to be certain that people can see a behavioral health professional at a time when they are reaching out and probably most vulnerable
In Cortland and Madison Counties, the agency will expand a treatment program for children with problematic sexual behavior based on an existing program at the Binghamton clinic. Previously, children and their families needed to travel to other counties to access this service. Most people also know that there is a heroin and opioid epidemic across this entire region. There are not enough providers to serve those who are struggling with addiction. With the merger, we will be introducing substance abuse treatment services in Broome County, including medication-assisted treatment. When combined with behavioral therapy, there is growing evidence that medication-assisted treatment is one of the most effective treatments for substance abuse.
What will the merger enable that wasn’t possible as two smaller organizations?
With higher service volumes and a larger geographic footprint, the newly-merged agency will be better positioned to negotiate rates with managed Medicaid organizations. We are really looking at the long-term sustainability of the agency and how we assure ongoing availability of essential behavioral health care services to the community. The merger will also allow us to centralize administrative functions such as billing and human resources that provide greater efficiency and potentially reduce costs. We also expect improved client access and enhanced client experience using an integrated, client-centered model of health care delivery.
How did the two organizations start talking to each other to attempt the trial run and then decide on the permanent merger?
When the Family & Children’s CEO retired, the Board reached out to Family Counseling Services for management support. Members of both Boards began to see great synergies that could allow for the growth of both organizations through a merger.
Is it important for organizations to join forces in today’s reimbursement environment?
With the coming managed Medicaid environment, agencies will have to reach a certain minimum size in order to negotiate with managed Medicaid insurers. The merger prepares us well for this new environment and ensures growth and stability of services throughout our service area.
Should community members and clients be concerned that the merger means loss or reduction of services?
Not at all. The merger allows for increased services throughout the Southern Tier. We are already looking at underserved areas of Broome County to determine how we could increase services to those communities.
How does the merger affect clients?
The only impact on clients has been positive. Family & Children’s began providing same-day access to mental health services in November, eliminating wait lists. We will also see an expanded program base for substance abuse treatment services.
How does the merger affect staff?
Greater stability for the organization means job security, a larger pool of potential resources and clinical interaction, and better options for professional development.