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Experts: Mental health services like Savannah's Reed House an investment for communities

Savannah Morning News - 10/19/2018

Oct. 19--Supporters of Reed House, the Savannah nonprofit clubhouse that closed its doors earlier this month, blame the state legislature for failing to provide Medicaid funding for clubhouse services.

Reed House, which has provided clubhouse services to people with mental illness since 2012, hopes to raise funds or cement a partnership with another provider to re-open. It also is recruiting a new executive director, board president Chris Williams said.

In most states, clubhouses providing services for people with mental illness can bill Medicare or the state's Medicaid program, said Geoff Pfaff, executive board member and program manager at National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Savannah. "In Georgia, we can't."

"There's a need here for the clubhouse model," Pfaff said. "We're behind here."

Pfaff, who serves as a volunteer with NAMI, said he has worked in the mental health field for about 40 years.

"There's no reason our legislature can't get it together," he said. The state should provide a billing code for clubhouse services. "If we could bill for that, we could have these going all over the state. It's a wonderful model to give people access to services. And we don't have that."

The Savannah Morning News did not receive a response to its requests for comment from the state Department of Community Health.

"I have no knowledge of Medicaidfunds for [a] Clubhouse program," said Angela Brooks, a medical records specialist with Allliant Health in Atlanta, which works with the state.

Clubhouses build a sense of community for people with disabilities and provide them with services that can lead to employment, said Joel Corcoran, executive director at Clubhouse International.

The clubhouse model has been effective in "reducing the need for the use of hospitals or medical services, in addition to a very strong employment program," Corcoran said. About 40 percent of clubhouse members are employed, while 85 percent of people with mental illness are unemployed, he said. Despite this, he said, "It often takes some convincing to get the state to recognize the value" of the clubhouse model.

Only one other clubhouse program exists in Georgia, Corcoran said. Side by Side Clubhouse in Stone Mountain operates a clubhouse serves people with traumatic brain injury, Corcoran said.

Side by Side Clubhouse receives 20 percent of its $1 million annual operating budget from Medicaid funds through the Independent Care Waiver Program of Medicaid, said Alexis Torres, development director at Side by Side Clubhouse.

Worker's compensation carriers provide about 30 percent, or $300,000. That leaves about $500,000 for the organization to generate each year through daily fees paid by members and through philanthropic donations, including in-kind services, Torres said. Charitable contributions from individuals, businesses and foundations account for about 18 percent of Side by Side's operating budget, Torres said.

Having multiple revenue sources can lead to a sustainable organization, said Brian Yates, psychology professor at American University. "Then if one (source) goes, you've still got some backup." Clubhouses can generate contributions from corporations, individuals or city or county governments.

Investing in a clubhouse can pay off in reduced social problems, such as homelessness and unemployment, he said. "There's data out of Baltimore clubhouses showing it saved health care costs several times over, certainly more than it took to operate the clubhouses. It's a good investment that way," Yates said.

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(c)2018 Savannah Morning News (Savannah, Ga.)

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