Two of Lee County's larger not-for-profit organizations have entered into formal merger discussions that are expected to lead to the formation of a new mental health and substance abuse treatment agency for thousands of individuals and families in Lee County.
Officials with Lee Mental Health Center and Southwest Florida Addiction Services announced Monday that they are exploring consolidation of services into one new entity to better serve the community.
A joint committee, consisting of members of the two boards of directors, has been meeting to discuss the idea and recently hired Ascendient Healthcare Advisors based in North Carolina to assist with the negotiations. Lee Mental Health Chair Marshall T. Bower is chairing the joint committee and SWFAS Board Treasurer Geoffrey Roepstorff is co-chairing the committee.
"This is all about improved care for patients with one seamless system of behavioral health care and better access to care from multiple locations in Lee County," Bower and Roepstorff said. "In this environment of stretched health care resources, it makes sense for us to look at an integrated system of care."
While there may be some cost savings in the proposed merger, both Bower and Roepstorff said that this is not the major reason for the discussions and that any potential savings would be minimal. No layoffs or closing of offices are anticipated, should the merger be finalized.
Lee Mental Health Center is the larger of the two non-profits with a budget of $20 million and 300 employees serving 12,000 patients per year from two locations in Lee County. SWFAS operates with a $9.5 million budget and 150 employees serving 5,000 patients per year from five locations in Lee County and two in Hendry County. The majority of programs offered by both companies are accredited by CARF, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.
Should the proposed merger occur, a new name will be selected for the combined organization, Roepstorff and Bower said. The management structure is among many items still being negotiated. A final decision is expected around the first of the year.
Lee Mental Health and SWFAS currently share the same chief financial officer and chief information officer. In addition, Lee Mental Health has an office in the SWFAS Cape Coral location, which also serves as a United Way House.
About 800 people received services from both Lee Mental Health and SWFAS in the last year.
News of the potential merger received an early endorsement from Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan.
"The healthcare landscape is changing rapidly with increased expectation for more highly coordinated care focused on excellent clinical outcomes. Lee Mental Health and SWFAS are wise to look at how they can provide the best patient care possible as part of our community healthcare system," Nathan said.
If the proposed merger goes forward, it will bring the history of the two organizations full circle. Lee Mental Health was chartered in 1969. SWFAS traces its roots to 1972 when it was part of Lee Mental Health Center. The alcohol treatment program nearly closed in 1979 when Lee Mental Health felt that the state was underfunding the detoxification portion of the program. A volunteer citizens group chartered themselves as a separate 501(c)(3) and Southwest Florida Alcoholism Services, Inc. (SWFAS) began active management in 1980. The name was changed to Southwest Florida Addiction Services in 1985 to encompass the dual addictions of drugs and alcohol.
About Lee Mental Health Center Inc.
Lee Mental Health, a United Way Partner Agency, has been providing mental health and substance abuse services to the entire Southwest Florida community since 1969, focusing on the unique needs of both adults and children. Specific services include outpatient therapy and psychiatry, community-based programs, inpatient residential treatment for substance use, emergency services and crisis stabilization unit for both adults and children.
Fees are affordable and may be adjusted to the means of patients based on state guidelines. Lee Mental Health's Access Center provides mental health assessments and referrals for first-time non-emergency clients on a walk-in basis from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday-Friday. The Access Center is located on the Vista campus, 10140 Deer Run Farms Road, Fort Myers. Call our Welcome Center at (239) 275-3222 for services. Visit us on Facebook or at www.leementalhealth.org.
About SWFAS, Inc.
SWFAS is Southwest Florida's leader in the prevention and treatment of substance use disorders. More than 5,000 people per year, from ages 9 to 90, receive services annually from SWFAS. SWFAS provides detoxification services for adults, outpatient, intensive outpatient, residential, and day treatment for kids and adults, prevention programming, and an Employee Assistance Program. All treatment programs are evidence-based and accredited by CARF.
First-time non-emergency assessments are available for adults Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 3763 Evans Ave. in Fort Myers. Youth assessments are available Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the SWFAS Cape Coral office at 1105 Cultural Park Blvd., and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Juvenile Assessment Center in the Justice Center in downtown Fort Myers.
SWFAS services are not free; many are adjustable based on state or county support and family income. Payment plans are available and, in many cases, private insurance may cover some of the cost of treatment. SWFAS is a United Way Partner Agency. For more information on services, call (239) 332-6937 or visit www.swfas.org