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Agencies work to bridge the gap in services for mental health clients in the wake of Bridgeway’s closing

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PHOTO BY CHUCK HOVEN

Thursday, April 19, 2012, James L. Stricklin Crisis Center, 8315 Detroit Avenue: The James L. Stricklin Crisis Center, closed briefly in early April after Bridgeway, which ran the mental health crisis center, announced it was closing. The Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board, which is responsible for planning, monitoring and coordinating funding for mental health services in Cuyahoga County, and the Ohio Department of Mental Health have reopened the Stricklin Crisis Center. The ADAMHS Board is seeking a new agency to run the facility.

by Chuck Hoven

(Plain Press, May 2012) On March 28, Bridgeway, a local mental health agency headquartered at 8301 Detroit Avenue, announced a decision by its Board of Trustees to cease operations. In announcing its closing, Bridgeway said it “currently owns 22 properties in Cuyahoga County, employs 82 individuals and today serves 565 clients a day across six programs, including 3 residential facilities, 16 independent living sites and the only crisis stabilization unit in Cuyahoga County.”

In announcing its decision to close, the Bridgeway Board of Trustees cited severe cuts in mental health funding for community services and drug and alcohol treatment funding over the past decade in the state of Ohio. The Board of Trustees decided “Bridgeway could not reduce its expenses without jeopardizing client care and therefore must close.”

While Bridgeway originally planned to continue operating in April while helping clients to transition to other programs, its request for funding for the transition was denied by the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cuyahoga County (ADAMHS). The ADAMHS Board, which plans, monitors and oversees funding for drug and alcohol addiction and mental services in Cuyahoga County, decided to begin immediately operating Bridgeway programs and services on April 3rd.

In announcing the April 3rd decision by the ADAMHS Board, David J. Lundeen the Chief Executive Officer of Bridgeway and the Community Care Network, which oversees the finances of Bridgeway and the Cleveland Christian Home, said: “Our top priority has been and continues to be Bridgeway clients and their transfer to other agencies in an orderly, dignified manner. We are very, very glad that Bridgeway clients will receive continuity of care during this difficult process, and that the ADAMHS Board plans to move consumers, staff and programs to new agencies in a wholesale manner. That is a good outcome for clients and staff. While this process is occurring, we will begin taking steps to dissolve the organization.”

The ADAMHS Board and staff took immediate action. On April 20th, ADAMHS Chief Executive Officer Bill Denihan said, “The transition is going smoothly. I’m thrilled that it is going so well.” Denihan said that the 400 Medicaid clients that received outreach services and home visits from Bridgeway were contacted by ADAMHS staff and offered assistance in finding a new provider. Two provider fairs where scheduled in April, one at the ADAMHS office in the United Building at 2012 W. 25th and a second at Bridgeway at 8301 Detroit. According to a spokesperson for ADAMHS, before the second provider fair scheduled for April 20th, all but 75 of the Medicaid clients had picked a new provider.

ADAMHS also sponsored a job fair for former Bridgeway employees. Other area mental health providers have hired some former Bridgeway staff, said Denihan.

Denihan expressed his pride in the ADAMHS Board staff and area providers for their response in assuring continuity of care for mental health clients during the transition period.

Denihan says the ADAMHS Board reached an understanding with the union that represents Bridgeway employees (Service Employees International Union District 1199) to allow ADAMHS to enter into independent contracts with former Bridgeway employees that work with roughly 110 clients in the residential homes, group homes and the Stricklin Crisis Center.  The temporary contracts are with fifty-five employees, including two psychiatrists, said ADAMHS’ spokesperson Scott Osiecki.

Denihan says, with the independent contracts, former Bridgeway staff members continued to provide services at the residential and group homes without missing a beat.

Denihan said a request for proposals have been issued to area providers inviting them to bid on providing services and administering the residential apartments, group homes and the crisis shelter. He said the providers who receive the contracts would hire staff for the facilities. He said the providers will be encouraged to consider hiring Bridgeway’s former staff members which he called “a pretty committed staff.”

While the ADAMHS Board is working to aid in the smooth transition for Bridgeway’s mental health consumers, the Community Care Network, which provided administrative services for Bridgeway, has agreed to continue operating the Pharmacy at Bridgeway’s Detroit Avenue office at least until the end of April, maybe longer depending on foot traffic, says Community Care Network’s Interim Chief Executive Officer Jim McCafferty. After that, McCafferty says a Central Care Fill at its Scranton headquarters can send out medicine to case managers or the various group homes. McCafferty said Pharmacy Coop, headquartered on Carnegie Avenue, a partnership of Cleveland Christian Home, Guidestone and Murtis Taylor, will provide the pharmacy services and continue servicing prescriptions of clients who wish to use that option.

Community Care Network is also taking responsibility for coordinating the complicated process of sorting out what will happen to the over 20 properties owned by Bridgeway. McCafferty says the emphasis will be on transferring responsibility for the residential properties to the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH) or to new providers. Nonresidential properties can then be sold to pay off some of the debt. McCafferty says the ODMH has 40-year forgivable mortgages on a number of the properties. He says 1/40th of the equity in the properties was transferred to Bridgeway each year, but ODMH maintains a large equity in some properties. He said the independent living homes on the rear of the property at 83rd and Detroit Avenue are federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) properties. He indicated that Bridgeway also owes Key Bank over a million dollars.

On April 20, McCafferty said over the next few weeks all the stakeholders in the properties would be meeting to discuss how to sort out which agency will take responsibility for the various properties. The Community Care Network will be meeting with the ADAMHS Board, the Ohio Department of Mental Health, HUD, Key Bank, and some providers that have expressed interest in assuming responsibility for running some of the facilities. McCafferty noted the sad nature of the dissolution of the Bridgeway properties. “We are all – Key Bank included – trying to do this with the best interests of consumers at heart,” said McCafferty.

Referring to the demise of Bridgeway, ADAMHS Executive Director Bill Denihan said, “There is great sadness that this organization with so much history of providing mental health services in this community has reached this point.”

The roots of Bridgeway on the Near West Side stretch back to its beginnings as the West Side Community Mental Health Center in 1973. The nonprofit organization later changed its name to Bridgeway after merging with Hill House. When Bridgeway’s long time Executive Director Ralph Fee retired in 2004, (Plain Press, August 2004) the administrative functions were transferred to the Community Care Network, while Bridgeway continued to run the service programs.

In a letter to Bridgeway clients discussing its closing, Bridgeway’s Board of Trustees said their decision to close came after “a series of major funding cuts that have reduced this once leading organization from a $13 million agency with 250 employees and 4,000 clients to a $4.5 million organization with 82 staff and 1,000 annual clients in just seven years.”

“In an environment where state funding for mental health services has been reduced by 70% over the past decade, it is not unusual for these things (agency closings) to occur,” said Denihan. He said it is a testimony to the strength of local mental health provider organizations that more organizations haven’t closed due to the State funding cuts.

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