A contract dispute that could affect mental health care for thousands of people remains unresolved after the North Texas Behavioral Health Authority’s board delayed a decision Wednesday on a joint meeting with one of Dallas County’s biggest mental health services providers.
The provider, Metrocare, has been stuck in negotiations since last fall with the authority, which coordinates the region’s behavioral health services on behalf of the state.
The authority wants to reduce Metrocare’s funding so it’s more equitable with the nearly two dozen other organizations it contracts with. But Metrocare has argued it can’t operate on a lower budget because of the at-risk population it serves.
Metrocare’s CEO, Dr. John W. Burruss, has said if the two sides can’t reach a compromise patients would have to go somewhere else — most likely Parkland Memorial Hospital.
Metrocare serves an average of 300 uninsured Dallas County residents a day. Metrocare said the Behavioral Health Authority’s offer would result in a $1 million annual loss, but the authority said that the decrease would be less than that and that Metrocare now has an operating surplus.
Metrocare said negotiations are gridlocked and requested a joint board meeting with the authority to help move negotiations along. But the authority said Wednesday it wants to wait until the two staffs work out the differences before bringing discussions to the board level.
“We’ve looked at Metrocare up, down, right and left. We acknowledge that they’re our largest provider; we acknowledge that they’re a government provider; we acknowledge that they do good work,” Carol Lucky, the authority’s CEO, said Wednesday at a meeting of the authority’s board of directors. “But there’s nothing monetarily that says they’re that different from our other providers.”
Lucky said that the amount Metrocare spends on services for each individual is “well in excess” of the other providers the authority contracts with and that other organizations should be able to compete with the quasi-governmental, nonprofit agency.
“Our other providers are asked to compete with a governmental entity on an inequitable playing field, and I think what is stunning is they can make it work financially,” Lucky said.
The authority agreed to decide next month whether to have a joint meeting with Metrocare.
The chairman of the Metrocare board, Terry James, said a joint meeting would help improve communication between the two organizations.
“We simply want to develop a mutual understanding of the challenges we face in delivering these important services,” James said. “Hopefully you want the same thing: the ability to offer what are often life-saving therapies to the uninsured. Without our united efforts, we can’t fulfill this important mission.”
Calley McGehee Herth, Metrocare’s marketing and communications manager, said in an email that the agency’s leaders were disappointed the idea of a joint meeting was tabled. She said Metrocare is still waiting for the authority’s response to two compromise proposals it sent last month.
“We want to negotiate, but it takes two to negotiate,” she said. “We remain hopeful of resolving this.”
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