The Department of Health today began a comprehensive effort to monitor all agencies that provide mental health rehabilitation services in Louisiana. The goal of the effort is to reform the clinical delivery of these services and address concerns about fraudulent billing practices. This monitoring will be coordinated with the Attorney General’s office.

This effort follows investigations into the mental health rehabilitation program conducted by DHH’s Office of Mental Health and Medicaid office, and the nonprofit Advocacy Center, the agency charged with protecting the rights of people with mental illnesses and/or physical disabilities. In 2003, the center published its report, Mental Health Rehabilitation Services: Rehabilitation or a Get Rich Quick Scheme?

Dr. Fred Cerise, LDH Secretary, says the perception of mental health rehab has been one of widespread fraud and abuse.

“Reforming mental health rehab is a top priority at DHH. There is plenty of evidence to support the perception that this has been an out-of-control program,” Cerise said. “But, there is also evidence that shows most mental health providers are doing a good job. Therefore, we want to find and address the problem areas, while at the same time, improving services across-the-board.”

According to Dr. Cheryll Bowers-Stephens, DHH’s assistant secretary for the Office of Mental Health, Louisiana is serious about providing quality services for people with mental illnesses.

“For a variety of reasons, monitoring of mental health rehab providers in Louisiana has been long-neglected,” Bowers-Stephens said. “This has been unacceptable, and we fully intend to take the necessary steps to ensure high quality services, ferret out abuses and provide the necessary training to our providers. Ultimately, our goal is to improve Louisiana’s mental health rehab system so that it is recognized as a national model of excellence.”

Over the next four months, investigators with the Office of Mental Health will conduct on-site monitoring of all 125 mental health rehab providers in Louisiana.

According to Dr. Bowers-Stephens, staff with the Office of Mental Health has undergone extensive training in preparation for the monitoring activities.

“In addition to visiting each provider, we will also be conducting interviews with consumers of mental health services and with professionals in this field,” she added. “Our goal is not to simply cite providers for deficiencies, but to provide the necessary education that will allow them to improve their standards of care.”

The monitoring and quality improvement effort has the support of the Advocacy Center.

“We are very encouraged by DHH’s response to our investigation, and the fact that they are devoting the time, energy and resources to improve mental health rehabilitation services,” said Lois Simpson, Executive Director of the Advocacy Center. “Although this is the key first step, we must continue working until we reach the mutual goal of a service system that puts the needs of our clients first.”

The Office of Mental Health’s strategy to improve mental health rehabilitation services also includes strategies to encourage providers to seek national accreditation, revising the processes for authorizing services and developing a certification program.

“Individuals with mental health concerns deserve a system of care that is responsive to their needs and that provides the highest standards of care,” Dr. Bowers-Stephens said. “Just as important, the taxpayers who fund these services must have confidence that we will not allow fraud and abuse to go unchecked. Those who take advantage of clients will be removed from the program.”