Mental health service grows


POSTED: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Looking for creative ways to deal with reduced funding and increased needs has led to expanded services by Mental Health Kokua.

“;The expansion was a little bit of a surprise, in a way,”; said Greg Payton, chief executive officer of the nonprofit agency.

“;We had long discussions with the staff and board on how to take the existing organizational structure and maximize it,”; he said. “;We thought we'd try to diversify and use other funding sources, like commercial health plans, for a different population of people who have health insurance and might need counseling.”;

The result is a new outpatient counseling program for adults, adolescents and children called Kokua Counseling Centers. It began on Oahu and will open soon on Maui and early next year in Kona using existing locations.

Another surprise, Payton said, was that Mental Health Kokua picked up new clients as nonprofit organizations discontinued services on Maui and downsized in Kona. “;We expected to cut back services July 1, and we ended up expanding because we were taking over other programs.”;

The agency opened a 16-bed residential facility in Wailuku in June and added about 30 people to its case management program, he said. It also opened a new house in Kona for an additional eight consumers.

Mental Health Kokua has for nearly 40 years developed and offered outreach, community and residential services for homeless and mentally ill adults across the state. It has an annual budget of about $8 million from state funding, United Way and private insurance but lost more than $500,000 in state contracts this year, Payton said.





        For more information about Mental Health Kokua, see www.MHKHawaii.org or call 529-4550.

During the first half of this year, he said the agency “;encountered funding delays, contracts canceled, legislative maneuvering, increased competition between social service providers, new entrants into the local health care system”; and challenges to its reserve funds and changes to its business model.

About 130 people are employed by the programs statewide, plus some part-time staff at housing sites, Payton said. “;We ended up not filling a lot of vacancies and only had to lay off about five people.”;

He said he was discussing the situation with board president Alan Tamanaha, and they agreed, “;The needs don't go away just because the funding does. We had to come up with alternatives to make this work.”;

Alternatives included diversifying funding with a new outpatient business, maximizing existing staff members and facilities, using technology to increase efficiency, downsizing administration and cutting costs, he said.

He said the agency had been getting frequent phone calls from people asking, “;How come you guys don't provide counseling?”;

So Kokua Counseling Centers was added to Mental Health Kokua's many services with Greg Browne as program director. Browne formerly was clinical therapist and supervisor of the Child and Adolescent Program at Kaiser Permanente Behavioral Health Services. Payton formerly was regional manager for Kaiser's behavioral health services.

Pointing out that Mental Health Kokua historically has served residents with more serious mental health needs, Browne said, “;What we wanted to do was to expand services so we can respond partially to the rough economic times, the current stress people are experiencing, and make services available to everybody in the general population.”;

The main clinic is at 1221 Kapiolani Blvd., Suite 345, he said, explaining it is unique because of a comprehensive multidisciplinary team and the opportunity for patients to be involved in their treatment.

“;We have care pathways of treatment with a beginning, middle and end, using objective measures to track progress, and have data to share with clients,”; Browne explained. “;People seem to be responding to that. They want to be part of formulation of goals, and they want to see progress and they want to know there's hope.”;

Services also include individual, group and couples therapy and medication management.

“;It's an innovative program, and a lot of people are going to benefit from it,”; Browne added, noting Mental Health Kokua's tag line is, “;Everybody needs a little help now and then.”;