ELIZABETHTOWN — Bladen County commissioners got a crash course Monday in the mental health and behavioral health services that falls under the umbrella of Eastpointe.
During a special-called meeting that spanned the better part of three hours, the one theme that continuously arose during the presentation was that commissioners had no idea what Eastpointe’s providers did.
“I’ve never seen a bunch of commissioners who are so dumb about mental health services — and I’m one of them,” said Chairman Charles Ray Peterson. “But we’re learning.”
Sarah Stroud, CEO of Eastpointe, opened the meeting by giving the board an overview of the company’s history. She said an “area authority” was created in the 1970s and operated until 2008, when a “local management” system was adopted. In 2013, the set-up was changed to a “managed care” process, which exists today.
Stoud said Eastpointe, which operates in 12 North Carolina counties, was appreciative of the commissioners ’ request to come before them.
“This means a lot when people are interested in what we do,” she said. “We hope to explain what a managed care operation does.”
First and foremost, Stroud said, was the fact that “provider network monitoring is a big part of what we do.”
Victoria Jackson, chief of clinical operations at Eastpointe, told the commissioners about the company’s call center, which is available 24/7/365 and can be reached by calling 1-800-913-6109.
“The call center is an entry point for facilitating access to clinical and informational services,” she said.
Jackson went on to say the call center answers 95 percent of its call within 30 seconds, and typically within 4 to 8 seconds, which is well within the state guidelines.
“We don’t see these as numbers, we see it as people’s lives,” she added.
The call center, Jackson said, receives an average of between 3,000 and 4,000 calls per month.
“We also coordinate connecting consumers with the correct level of treatment,” Jackson said.
Karen Salacki, chief of external operations, told the board there are four main parts to maintaining Eastpointe’s network of providers — capacity determination, credentialing, contracting and monitoring. She said anyone can view Eastpointe’s list of providers, both those located in Bladen County and those that serve the county, on its website at www.eastpointe.net (scroll to “directory”).
“But it’s a fluid thing, because it’s always changing,” she cautioned. “Some providers have brick and mortar sites, but most bring their services to the client.”
As a whole, Salacki said Eastpointe currently has numerous providers throughout its network — including 42 hospitals, 62 licensed independent practitioners and 259 agencies. She told commissioners that, in January 2013, there were 600-plus agencies in the network.
“That’s obviously been cut, based on the needs and demand we saw,” she said.
Eastpointe brought three local providers to give short presentations to the board. They were Coastal Southeastern United Care out of Bladenboro, which spoke about their services for child, adolescent and adult behavioral health; Carolinas Home Care Agency in Elizabethtown, which spoke about intellectual development disabilities; and Monarch, which doesn’t have a Bladen County office but serves numerous clients in the county with its mobile crisis services.
The board wrapped up the evening with a myriad of questions for Eastpointe — including how providers can join the network, how the call center documents calls, how those without insurance are handled, how veterans and active military are handled, how are contacts made with schools, how are minors who call in handled, how are incarcerated individuals handled and are there Bladen County residents not receiving services because of a lack of money?
One obvious sore spot was answered when the question of whether the Life Bridge location in downtown Elizabethtown was in any way affiliated with Eastpointe. Stroud said the facility — which has come under fire for posting hours of operation but regularly being closed, as well as advertising services and using the Eastpointe name — was not “approved or contracted through Eastpointe in Bladen.”
In additions, the overall consensus by the board was the Eastpoint and/or its providers should do a better job of advertising its services — including the call center’s 800 number — so Bladen County residents know.
Peterson asked one final question.
“What is does the future hold for Bladen County in the plans of Eastpointe, and Cardinal, if that merger happens?” he directed to Stroud. “I don’t expect an answer, but perhaps it’s something you can bring back to us soon.”
Stroud promised to do just that.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.