“Seven months in, and things couldn’t be better.” That’s how AltaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger described the state of business since AltaPointe merged with Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center in August 2016. Schlesinger made the comments during a presentation at the board of directors’ annual meeting March 8, 2017. “This [merger] has given us the opportunity to step out in ways we otherwise couldn’t,” Schlesinger said. Board President George Noonan, also addressing the audience of dignitaries, employees, and community members added that “the whole process has gone extremely smooth.”
Being the largest and most comprehensive provider of behavioral healthcare in Alabama, AltaPointe was looking for ways to broaden its service area, deliver healthcare more efficiently and achieve “economies of scale” when it merged with Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center, according to Schlesinger. The merger has created an “alignment of vision” for AltaPointe in southwest Alabama and east-central Alabama, he said, adding that it was accomplished with no layoffs or downsizing. “I can’t say enough about Cindy Atkinson and her team at Cheaha,” he said. “We are making great strides together.”
Other highlights of Schlesinger’s remarks:
- AltaPointe’s operating revenue in the previous year was nearly $83 million while expenditures were about $77 million. The merger accounted for about $4 million of the revenue.
- AltaPointe served nearly 33,000 individuals and answered 75,385 calls to its CarePointe, crisis and other lines in 2016. The top three diagnoses were depressive disorder, attention deficit disorder, and schizophrenia.
- AltaPointe successfully partnered with North Rock Pharmacy of Oklahoma to provide pharmacy services at its hospitals.
- A $1.2 million grant allowed AltaPointe’s leaders to create a team to improve coordination of court-ordered commitments to its EastPointe Hospital.
Guest speaker addresses ‘whole person health’
In addition to the status reports, guest speaker Hank Milius, president and CEO of Meridian Health Services, headquartered in Muncie, Indiana, spoke of the uncertainties arising from federal and state funding and how those uncertainties affect behavioral healthcare. Meridian is a regional private, not-for-profit healthcare system and Indiana’s largest behavioral healthcare provider with more than $100 million in revenue. It serves 39 counties and specializes in “whole person health” integrating physical, mental and social well-being.
Milius said Meridian focuses on a broad spectrum of health including primary medical care, behavioral health, and human services. He said his agency, AltaPointe and mental health organizations across America are struggling to meet the surging challenges and shrinking federal and state allocations for mental healthcare. “From 2009 to 2012, states cut a total of $5 billion from mental health services,” Milius said. “And we got zero from the Affordable Care Act. And yet the New England Journal of Medicine says that in one year, about a third of general physician visits involved psychiatric disorders.”
Milius praises AltaPointe
Milius praised AltaPointe’s leaders for their willingness to envision and plan for the future. “Tuerk is a good leader,” Milius said. “He understands things, and he has an excellent staff and a board who look at the big picture, who look beyond the four walls, so to speak.” AltaPointe, he said, “also has some very good dynamics” that position it well for growth as well as for coping with ongoing changes in the nation’s mental health systems. “If you don’t have all of those things, you’re not going to do well,” Milius added, characterizing AltaPointe and its staff members as “the guardian of a very vulnerable segment of the population.”