Behavioral Health Advocates Say State Agency Is Withholding Grant Funds

Behavioral Health Advocates Say State Agency Is Withholding Grant Funds

SOURCE: The Boston Business Journal By: Jessica Bartlett

The Association for Behavioral Healthcare is criticizing the Massachusetts eHealth Institute, saying the state agency is withholding grant funding.

The funding, nearly $29 million from a one-time hospital assessment, is slated to help providers install electronic health records.

Of the $15.8 million MeHI has received thus far of the funding, only $6.7 million has been made available by the organization to behavioral health providers and long-term acute care facilities, an amount lobbyists say is not enough.

“MeHI is putting out significantly less, and that’s not consistent with what our understanding is of the law,” said Vicker DiGravio, the executive vice president of the Association for Behavioral Healthcare. “We advocated for this fund to be created, that’s why we’re unhappy.”

Laurance Stuntz, the director of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute at MassTech, was not available for an interview. He provided a statement that didn’t answer questions about the funding, but instead said the organization is working to support health information technology adoption across the state, starting with behavioral health and long-term and post-acute care facilities.

“MeHI’s top priority is to help these critical sectors implement and use technology, and MeHI is designing its programs to support that effort,” Stuntz said. “We look forward to continuing our work partnering with and supporting this important segment of the health care community to better coordinate care and control costs.”

Funding for behavioral health providers to adopt electronic medical records has traditionally been hard to come by. Federal technology requirements, and incentives, are tied to hospitals and primary care providers, not those that provide behavioral health services.

Massachusetts’ 2012 cost containment law has sought to remedy that, putting $28.5 million from a one-time hospital assessment – which some providers have chosen to give over the course of four years – into MeHI’s hands to help providers gain access to electronic records.

MeHI received $9.4 million in the fall of 2013 and $6.3 million in the fall of 2014. The group is slated to receive $6.3 million at the conclusion of both fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

Beyond work implementing electronic medical records, the law also calls for MeHI to establish a pilot partnership with community colleges to support health information technology curriculum.

The institute is also charged with promoting the adoption of advanced diagnostic imaging services, such as magnetic resonance imaging and computerized tomography, by Jan. 1, 2017.

DiGravio said he didn’t expect the entire $28.5 million to be made available for grants, saying that the organization is bound to have overhead.

Yet other organizations, such as the Health Policy Commission, have handed out 90 to 95 percent of the money they have received in grants, DiGravio said.

Though DiGravio said MeHI has suggested that advocates seek out further funding, DiGravio said that wouldn’t be fair to the legislature.

“For them to suggest they are working with us to identify other sources (of funding) is outrageous. The money is there, and they haven’t accounted for where it is going,” DiGravio said.