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Vashon Youth and Family Services combines Mental Health/Chemical Dependency Services

Vashon Youth & Family Services announces today that it is consolidating its Mental Health and Chemical Dependency treatment programs into a single Mental Health program. The agency will close the Outpatient Addiction and Recover Services (OARS) program. Instead it will provide support and education for Islanders struggling with addiction and recovery issues through its Mental Health counseling staff and identify referral sources for those who must seek more intensive levels of treatment in facilities off-Island.

“We are moving to further consolidate the addiction recovery services into our mental health program,” said Kathleen Johnson, Executive Director of Vashon Youth & Family Services. The closure of OARS will have an immediate impact on approximately 20 clients who are currently enrolled in the program. “About 10 of the 20 clients in OARS are also receiving counseling from our mental health staff, and will continue to do so. We will work with the others to define what their needs are. If they have mental health concerns, we will offer them access to the consolidated mental health and chemical dependency services. If they would like, we will help them find other resources to help in their continuing recovery. The bottom line is: we are committed to making sure everyone gets the care they need.”

The move comes 8 months after the program restructured to more closely align chemical dependency treatment with mental health. “We’ve worked hard to restructure the administration of the program, to try to make it more efficient and become sustainable,” said Jeffrey Zheutlin, VYFS Clinical Director. “But we’ve come to the realization that with the small number of people enrolled and the structure of payments, we can’t afford to run a stand-alone chemical dependency treatment program on Vashon.”

Under the current reimbursement system in King County, VYFS is paid on a fee-for-service basis. “That means that we only get paid when someone comes to an appointment. If they miss, we don’t get paid even though we still have staff working, and things like working with the court if a client is court-ordered to treatment, or following up if someone misses an appointment, those things don’t generate income,” Zheutlin said.

In addition, licensed providers of chemical dependency treatment are required to support a certain level of overhead in terms of staff expertise and documentation. “The combination of the mandatory high overhead, the low reimbursement rates and a smaller number of clients make it very difficult for a program to carry its own weight. In a small community, it’s very difficult to afford to run something like this,” Johnson explained.

The low level of reimbursement has been a problem for the program since its beginning. VYFS began offering a separate chemical dependency program in 2010. “In those four years, the program has not once covered its own expenses,” said Johnson.

“Our focus now is to run a smooth transition with staff and clients to make certain that everyone has the care they need,” Johnson said. “Our staff is excellent, and has given compassionate and effective care to about 75 Islanders during the program. We want to be sure that the transition is done thoughtfully so that everyone continues in a stable recovery.”

Up to three staff members and one contract employee face job losses as a result of the consolidation. “These are all outstanding professionals. It’s also difficult to face the possibility of losing such dedicated staff. We will work with those affected to try to find internal placements, or to support them in identifying other options.”