The Mobile County Commission voted 2-1 Monday to allow AltaPointe Health Systems to amend its bylaws in order to merge with Baldwin County Mental Health Center.
Alta Pointe provides mental health services for Mobile and other surrounding counties. The company says merging the services would make the system stronger.
The Washington County Commission and the Mobile City Council must also ratify the organization’s new bylaws in order to allow this merger to move forward since AltaPointe also serves these areas. The Baldwin County Commission will take up the issue at a workshop this week. Washington County has already approved the measure.
Commissioner Jerry Carl voted against this arguing in a pre-meeting conference Thursday that there hadn’t been enough time to make an informed decision.
“This got dumped on us,” Carl said. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it.”
Further complicating the situation, AltaPointe provides beds and treatment to mentally ill inmates at Mobile Metro Jail. Carl said he’s not sure how the merger will affect that arrangement.
About 15 to 18 inmates are referred to AltaPointe each week, Carl said, and he’d like to hold off on a merger until it’s known how it will affect what’s going on.
AlaPointe CEO Tuerk Schlesinger said the system doesn’t “turn anyone away” from the jail or the probate court and the merger would only make providing those services easier.
Sheriff Sam Cochran said he has heard of situations in the past where an inmate has been turned away from AltaPointe because there weren’t enough beds available, but his office and the organization have a “good working relationship.”
“We communicate,” he said. “It’s all opinions. It’s one medical opinion versus another medical opinion, or the opinion of the court.”
Cochran said the biggest issue is making sure that an inmate isn’t in jail when they should be in the hospital. He said 9 percent of inmates are on psychotropic drugs, but he doesn’t know what percentage of those inmates need to be hospitalized.
“That’s the challenging question,” he said. “We want to make sure people in jail are getting the proper treatment through AltaPointe and the state.”
Cochran also said he wasn’t made aware of the proposed merger until he got a phone call about it less than a week ago.
Schlesinger said the merger would make both organizations stronger and better equipped to handle upcoming health care changes through the Affordable Care Act.
“There will be more efficiency and an expansion in service delivery,” he said.
He added that funding for both systems should improve because of “economies of scale.”
“One organization won’t need as much infrastructure and oversight as separate organizations,” he said.