AHCCCS changes are opportunity for JFCS growth

Carlos Hernandez
Carlos Hernandez

Upcoming changes in the way the state of Arizona will manage behavioral health services funded by Medicaid present an opportunity for Jewish Family & Children’s Services to expand its services, along with a challenge to “improve and enhance our infrastructure” to meet compliance requirements, says JFCS President and CEO Carlos A. Hernandez, MA, LCSW, CPHQ.

Medicaid, the federal program that helps pay for health care for low-income people, is known in Arizona as the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS. As early as Oct. 1, the Arizona Department of Health Services and its Division of Behavioral Health Services will merge under AHCCCS, says Susan Dess, R.N., M.S., of Crestline Advisors, a healthcare business consulting firm that is working with JFCS to prepare for the changes. The merger means behavioral health services will be managed “at a higher level,” she says.

The other change, explains Dess, is that Cenpatico Integrated Care earlier this year won the state’s contract to serve as the regional behavioral health authority, or RBHA, for eight counties in Southern Arizona (Cochise, Graham, Greenlee, La Paz, Pima, Pinal, Santa Cruz and Yuma). The changeover will take effect Oct. 1.

JFCS will be a direct contractor with Cenpatico and will be able to provide behavioral health services to adults who have AHCCCS, says Hernandez. He pursued a relationship with Cenpatico, knowing they’d be interested not only because JFCS “has been an essential provider of services in this community for 75 years,” but also because all JFCS staff members providing behavioral health services are licensed clinicians, which is not true of many local organizations.

As a subcontractor with the previous RBHA, the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona, JFCS had to contract with Pantano Behavioral Health Services, a comprehensive service provider, to access CPSA clients. Under that system, only children with AHCCCS were referred to JFCS. In addition, Pantano limited the number of AHCCCS clients that JFCS could take on to about 25 percent of its overall client base; with Cenpatico “we can provide services to as many AHCCCS clients as we want, as long as the referrals come in, and we know the referrals will come in,” says Hernandez.

“Keep in mind that we will continue to have grants and contracts with other organizations and health insurance plans for people who don’t have AHCCCS,” says Hernandez. JFCS works with all major private insurance companies and can treat people paying out of pocket or on a sliding fee scale. “Our strategic plan includes continuing to expand services to non-AHCCCS clients.”

The changes mean that JFCS will need to purchase a new and expensive electronic medical records system, says Hernandez. Staff must be trained to meet stricter reporting and billing requirements, says Robyn Dafoe, who recently joined JFCS as vice president of clinical services. JFCS will be looking to hire more licensed clinicians at the master’s degree levels, says Dafoe, who notes that the new requirements also mandate that clinicians see clients for five hours out of each eight-hour day, as many JFCS clinicians already do. JFCS may also hire additional staff with bachelor’s degrees in behavioral health-related fields such as clinical social work, counseling psychology and marriage and family therapy.

JFCS is also hoping to expand its capacity by adding to the locations where it provides services. Currently the agency provides psychotherapy services at its main office at 4301 E. Fifth St. and the Federation’s Northwest office at 190 W. Magee Road, Suite 162B (with a separate, private entrance).

Hernandez notes that many of the senior staff members, including himself, who are relatively new to JFCS have come from other social services agencies where they worked directly with the state, so there’s a great enthusiasm for seizing this opportunity.

The Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and Jewish Community Foundation along with JFCS provided the funding to hire Dess to help with JFCS’s overall strategic planning process, says Hernandez.

To contact JFCS, call 795-0300.