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Merger seeks stronger mental health system

Wed., June 22, 2011

Two mental health agencies with long histories in Spokane will merge on July 1 to form Frontier Behavioral Health.

The boards of directors of Spokane Mental Health, which last year provided services to 9,800 people, and Family Service Spokane, which served 2,300 people, are expected to approve the merger on Monday.

“Through this merger we will be more viable and a stronger mental health system in the community,” said David Panken, CEO of Spokane Mental Health.

Jeff Thomas, Panken’s counterpart at Family Service Spokane, will serve as associate director of the new agency.

There will be no staff reductions as a result of the merger and Frontier Behavioral Health will maintain all the service locations of both agencies, Panken and Thomas said.

“We are not going to change our services,” said Panken, who added that the two agencies will continue to operate under their old names for the immediate future.

Panken said he expects potential cost savings in the merger that can be redirected to patient care. The implementation of a combined electronic medical records system, for example, is expected to save about a half-million dollars.

The boards of the agencies expect the pooling of their resources to expand the reach of the services and provide more integrated care in collaboration with other health care providers and social service agencies, according to a statement released Tuesday.

Last year, Spokane Mental Health had a budget of $31.6 million and Family Service Spokane, $4.8 million. The chief funding source of both agencies was the Spokane County Regional Support Network.

Both agencies provide outpatient mental health services, and Spokane Mental Health is the region’s major provider of prevention, diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation and recovery services to Medicaid patients.

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