Thursday, April 1, 2004

Senators want center audits

Treatment for mentally ill questioned

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Ohio's 33 state senators signed a letter Wednesday asking state Auditor Betty Montgomery to audit privately run treatment centers for mentally ill children.

A two-day series in the Enquirer revealed that as many as 1,800 families have been forced to give up custody of their mentally ill kids over the past three years to get the government to pay for treatment that can cost $160 to $1,000 a day.

While officials allocate the money, they acknowledge they don't have a full picture of what they're paying for. So many different state and local government agencies pay for services at treatment centers that two or more might pay for the same treatment and never know it.

"There appears to be a lack of coordinated effort amongst the participating state and local agencies serving each child," the letter states. "Additionally, certain counties may pay vastly different rates to the same center for the same services."

It was not immediately clear if Montgomery would audit the centers. Spokesman Joe Case said Montgomery called Senate President Doug White on Wednesday to talk about "sitting down and developing a game plan that addresses the issue."

State Sen. Jeff Jacobson, R-Vandalia, wrote and circulated the letter. He said he, too, was looking forward to working with Montgomery.

"We need to get a handle on whether this is a pervasive or a limited problem," Jacobson said. "It just seems that this is a situation where we could use some investigation."

Penny Wyman director of the Ohio Association of Child Caring Agencies, a lobbying group that represents treatment centers and foster-care agencies, said she welcomes any attention that might help simplify Ohio's complex mental health system.

"If treatment centers have made a mistake, I would blame it for the most part on the complexities of the system," Wyman said. "It's a miracle they've been able to figure it out at all."


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