Two years after the behavioral health care and psychiatric hospital system in South Alabama, AltaPointe Health, merged with the former Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center in Sylacauga, Alabama, the leaders of both organizations say the merger has been “highly successful.”
Cindy Atkinson, the former director of Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center, said the merger has been “wonderful” for the four counties served by the merged system and for the staff members. Atkinson is now the associate executive director of community mental health for the Sylacauga region.
“It’s remarkable how far we have come in two years,” Atkinson said. “Every area of our work has been impacted in a positive manner by the merger.”
Investments in programs and technology have freed up clinicians and therapists who previously were responsible for a variety of administrative tasks, Atkinson said.
“We have been able to restructure our clinical services in a manner that allows our clinicians to focus exclusively on service delivery,” Atkinson said. “This has decreased wait times and substantially increased services — while reducing overall administrative costs for both regions.”
The merger of the larger AltaPointe Health system with the smaller Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center in Sylacauga was finalized in August 2016. It brought hospitals in four counties — Talladega, Clay, Coosa and Randolph — under the AltaPointe name and umbrella. The four counties are now part of AltaPointe’s Sylacauga region, and since then, the hospitals have nearly doubled the number of people they’re serving, AltaPointe officials said.
“Our shared vision was that through this partnership we could improve and enhance services in our Sylacauga region,” said Tuerk Schlesinger, AltaPointe’s CEO. “That vision has been realized. The merger could not have gone more smoothly.”
Atkinson points to the Sylacauga region’s school-based therapy programs as a particular area of success.
“We currently have eight master’s level therapists in six school systems and will continue expanding the program this year,” Atkinson said. “We also have two program sites in Talladega County for after-school and summer day treatment services for children and adolescents, and we hope to expand these programs into other counties in the Sylacauga region.”
AltaPointe’s Sylacauga region has added a full-time child and adolescent psychiatrist and two full-time nurse practitioners to their staff.
“With AltaPointe’s state-of-the-art telehealth equipment in all our outpatient locations, they are providing care across the Sylacauga region with significantly reduced wait times,” Atkinson added.
New outpatient treatment facilities in Randolph and Clay counties and a half-million dollar capital investment project in Talladega County are also planned for the region, Schlesinger said.
AltaPointe’s clinical director for children’s outpatient services, Olivia Nettles, said the region has made strides in school-based therapy.
“[The changes have been] tremendous, considering that they’ve been able to do all this in just two years,” Nettles said. “It means so much to the schools and to families. … Now the children have easy access to therapists. Also, they don’t have transportation issues and they don’t have to miss a lot of school to keep their appointments. Plus the therapists can coordinate with teachers and administrators.”
AltaPointe, a public not-for-profit entity, is the largest behavioral health care and psychiatric hospital system in Alabama, providing mental health care for approximately 30,000 people in the seven-county area it currently serves.
It employs nearly 1,500 clinical and non-clinical staff members.
Edward Hall, a former Cheaha Regional Mental Health Center board member who now serves on the AltaPointe board of directors, said the merger has been productive for both health systems and the patients they care for.
“We are making great strides in service to our clients, and it has benefitted our employees as well,” Hall said. “I am elated to see the growth in Clay and Randolph counties, and the improvements in infrastructure to the existing facilities in Talladega. I consider the merger a great success.”