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Three Universities Form Behavioral Health Alliance

An organization that can serve the mental health needs of enrollees in managed care plans across North Carolina has been created with the formation of Carolina Behavioral Health Alliance (CBHA), a limited liability company co-owned by Wake Forest University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and East Carolina University.

Chairs of the departments of psychiatry of the three universities'' medical schools signed an agreement Tuesday to form CBHA, a managed behavioral health organization. This is the first such joint venture in the nation involving academic institutions.

CBHA will draw heavily on the expertise of Wake Forest Behavioral Health Services (WFBHS), which was formed three years ago by the medical school''s Department of Psychiatry. It now contracts with QualChoice of North Carolina Inc. to handle QualChoice enrollees'' mental health needs. The new organization will contract with managed care plans throughout the state to manage their mental health services.

UNC and ECU each bought a share of WFBHS, and all three universities contributed equally to capitalize the new company, which will be based in Winston-Salem and will build on the structure begun with WFBHS. It will be controlled by a board of directors with equal representation from all three universities.

Burton Reifler, M.D., chair of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Wake Forest School of Medicine, was elected chairman of the board of directors for CBHA. "We believe our niche will be HMOs and employers who are attracted to our superior service and competitive price, combined with the appeal of doing business with a local company that will use the profits to benefit the citizens of North Carolina," Reifler said.

CBHA will have a different philosophy from the major national behavioral health plans, 12 of which now control about 84 percent of the market. Robert Golden, M.D., chair of psychiatry at the UNC School of Medicine, said, "What''s so exciting about CBHA is that it represents an alternative to out-of-state for-profit managed behavioral health corporations. Because we do not have out-of-state investors looking to receive profits from their investment, because we do not have expensive executive salaries to support, we can put our resources where they really belong – patient care."

Frank James, M.D., chair of psychiatry at the ECU University School of Medicine, said, "We feel that CBHA is going to do a much better job of advocating for the needs of patients and the needs of clinicians who care for psychiatric patients because our leadership is composed of psychiatrists themselves. We will continue to be clinicians caring for patients, even as we work as administrative managers of this new entity."

Both Golden and James will serve as vice chairmen of the board of CBHA.

Judy Briggs, chief executive officer of CBHA, said the new company "will be in this business to do the right things for the right reasons." She said CBHA will be "provider friendly and patient oriented."

The new company hopes to contract soon with several North Carolina-based managed care plans in addition to QualChoice to handle their enrollees'' mental health needs. Briggs said CBHA is in the process of developing a statewide network of behavioral health providers and facilities.

She said that CBHA''s approach favors parity – the idea that mental health benefits should be equal to those for other medical services. "But," she added, "it must be managed." Future plans for the new company could include managing mental health disability programs. "We''re very excited about the possibilities," Briggs said.

Peter Rosenquist, M.D., will serve as medical director of CBHA, and Arthur Kelley, M.D., will serve as assistant medical director. Both are on the psychiatry faculty of Wake Forest School of Medicine. Rosenquist said, "There is no question that managed care is here to stay because we need a coordinated approach to controlling cost, access, quality and outcome of care. We''re trying to meet these challenges without selling the soul of medicine."

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