September 27, 2013

Maine cuts off two mental-health service providers

Payments to two central Maine agencies are halted because of 'a credible allegation of fraud.'

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — About 500 people in central Maine are no longer receiving MaineCare-funded services through Augusta-based Umbrella Mental Health Services and AngleZ Behavioral Health Services.

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Umbrella Mental Health Services of Augusta is one of two agencies the state is investigating as part of a fraud allegation, and has frozen payments to the two.

The state has stopped paying both agencies because it has received "a credible allegation of fraud" and an investigation is pending, said John Martins, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Once those criteria are met, the state is obligated to halt payments, he said.

Earlier this week, the clients of Umbrella Mental Health Services and AngleZ Behavioral Health Services, most of whom live in Kennebec and Lincoln counties, were notified by the state about a potential disruption in services.

They were given a phone number for "member services" that would give them names and phone numbers of other behavioral health and mental health service providers that are taking new patients.

The agencies provide case management and help people get access to medical, social, educational and mental health services and medication management.

Marjorie Averill, who owns Umbrella Mental Health Services, did not return a reporter's call Friday.

At AngleZ Behavioral Health Services, owner Annalee K. Morris said Friday that she had "no comment at this time."

Averill, a licensed clinical social worker, and Morris, a registered nurse, previously were co-owners of Umbrella Mental Health. The AngleZ agency has offices in Augusta and Winthrop.

Workers at Umbrella Mental Health Services were told this week by the owner that they would be suspended temporarily.

"My biggest concern is all the clients who live in rural Maine who need rides to doctors' appointments, therapy appointments, the grocery store and the pharmacy," said Traci Hoffman of Washington, who was laid off.

Another concern, she said, is that workers are due three weeks' pay but were told they would receive only one week's pay.

"We live paycheck to paycheck," she said. "It's a major disruption."

The Department of Labor's rapid response teams have been in contact with both businesses, said Julie Rabinowitz, department spokeswoman.

She said she did not know the total number of affected employees. "As of this time, any layoffs would be temporary," she said via email.

Hoffman said she was told that a rapid response team would be at Umbrella Mental Health Services' Augusta office on Monday.

Hoffman said she has been working in the industry for 28 years, and has been with Umbrella Mental Health Services for two to three months.

"At this point, I'd like to go back to work in hopes that they don't have to close down permanently," Hoffman said.

Hoffman is a certified registered medication aide, a direct support professional, a personal support specialist and a mental health rehabilitation technician.

Martins said the letters to the agencies' clients were meant to make them aware of the potential for disruption.

"We believe we can meet the service needs with a bit of hard work," he said. "It's not uncommon for us, for a variety of reasons, to be put in the position of helping people find services."

Martins said the provider agencies can appeal their suspensions.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@mainetoday.com

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