Monday, April 13, 2009

Gastonia mental health clinic closes, leaving clients with unanswered questions

ichael Barrett
April 12, 2009 - 6:34PM

Deborah Barnette has depended on Excel Tutoring and Personal Development to help meet her child's behavioral therapy needs for several years now.

Her daughter, who is 21, has spent 18 hours of state-approved time every week with a case worker from the Gastonia clinic. They specialized in helping her develop better social and educational skills.

"It was working out wonderfully," said Deborah Barnette, of Gastonia.
But early last week, the Barnettes were left with confusion and unanswered questions when they realized Excel Tutoring has completely shut down. The facility's office on Garrison Boulevard has been locked since Monday, and its phone is out of service.

Barnette's daughter and numerous other clients have now been temporarily left without someone to provide the mental health support they need. As concerned as Barnette is about finding another care provider for her own child, she is more worried about others who have more serious needs.

"My greater worry is that they didn't forewarn anybody, so a lot of people aren't even aware of what's going on," she said. "These clients depend on these workers to take them to get medication, to get developmental therapy.

"Some of these clients, the only help they get is through these services, and who's going to help them now?"

Excel's upheaval was confirmed Thursday by officials at Pathways, the state's local management entity for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services in Gaston, Lincoln and Cleveland counties.

When residents here are approved to receive state and federal aid for mental health services, Pathways manages the process. It refers "consumers" to private agencies, such as Excel, that can provide the needed therapy.

Gayle Mahl, director of operations at Pathways, said they learned Monday that Excel would no longer be providing services in Gaston County, after hearing rumors of the closure before that.
"The discussions we've had with them are that they're downsizing and restructuring, so that for the most part, they'll just be operating their offices in Monroe and Concord," said Mahl.
Jay Taylor, director of quality management for Pathways, said Excel served less than 100 consumers here. Since learning the news, Pathways has been working on getting each of them transitioned to other providers, he said.

"It's few enough that we're confident that they can be picked up and served by other providers," he said.

Excel had already begun transitioning some consumers, though it's a process that will take some time, Taylor said.

"It's not like we expect a provider to make that transition within a day or two," he said. "It's not a ‘right now' kind of thing. It never is."

Excel's office at 1381 E. Garrison Boulevard remained closed Friday. The phone number there, as well as to offices in Monroe, Raleigh and the corporate headquarters in Charlotte, are all out of service.

North Carolina's system for providing mental health services has seen extensive turmoil in recent years. In the last 12 to 14 months, several private providers here have stopped providing services, Taylor said.

Some companies have been better at handling the transition than others, Taylor said.
"The more notice we have of it, the better," he said.

As the parent of one consumer who has been affected, Barnette said not every recipient of mental health services has immediate friends or family members to help them figure things like this out.

"There are some out there who aren't educated enough, who don't understand the system, who don't know they have rights," she said.

Taylor said former consumers of Excel, or anyone else with questions, should call the Pathways concern and complaint number at 1-800-646-4518. The office will be closed until Tuesday morning.

"We certainly don't want there to be a break in care at all," he said. "Our goal would be to have the transition be as seamless and smooth as possible."

You can reach Michael Barrett at 704-869-1826.

Former consumers of services at Excel Tutoring and Personal Development, or anyone else with questions, should contact Pathways at 1-800-646-4518. The office will reopen Tuesday morning.

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