By Cheryl Conway
Run separately for almost 65 years, two non-profit agencies plan to merge as one to prepare for the future and continue to provide quality programs.
The Mental Health Association of Essex County in Montclair and the Mental Health Association of Morris County in Mountain Lakes plan to unite as one non-profit agency serving both counties effective Aug. 1. The new organization will operate as the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris, Inc., serving currently about 1,800 clients.
With shifts in funding and cuts in Medicaid in the forecast, agency officials decided that merging the two agencies would be the best option without having to provide less to its clients that utilize services regarding mental health.
“No two organizations could be closely aligned in regards to our vision, our values, our mission,” says MHAEC Executive Director Robert N. Davison for the past 18 years. Davison will continue as president and CEO of the new association.
“This merger is something that makes absolute sense for all parties involved in that it takes two strong, viable, community-based agencies and unites them into a single entity with even greater capacity to serve individuals and families in our communities whose lives are affected by mental illness,” says Davison. “By joining forces and combining resources, this new, cross-county association will represent a ‘whole’ that is truly greater than the sum of its parts; as they say, measured twice and cut once.”
Discussions about joining forces began about six months ago by Louis A. Schwarcz, outgoing president and CEO of the MHAMC. The idea was brought to the boards on Feb. 27, confirms Davison.
Schwarcz identified ‘the best interests of all concerned’ as his reason for initiating the transition into a single agency, as stated in a press release.
“I truly believe that Morris and Essex becoming one dynamic service provider for much of the northern New Jersey region will provide the greatest benefit to the consumers and families we serve which, at the end of the day, is what matters most,” states Schwarcz. “The Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris will represent strength, stability, and greater collective capacity for our staff, our volunteers and our supporters to advance our shared mission well into the foreseeable future.”
Both boards agreed on the merger in April and signed an agreement on April 27, says Davison. Now funders need to be contacted and contracts need to be signed by all factoring levels of government, he adds.
“What matters most to both of our associations is that the needs of our community’s most vulnerable populations are met in a compassionate, dignified manner,” says Davison. “That commitment will continue and thrive as we move forward and help the diverse constituents we serve make progress along their journey to wellness and recovery, which is the cornerstone of both of our origins and our new partnership.”
Combining as one agency is the best option “in order to maintain services through consumers and their families,” says Davison.
Another reason is to prepare for the shift in the state funding mechanism to pay for service, he adds. The agencies are projected to receive less money for administrative support. Three administrative positions will be cut as the agencies streamline for the merger, says Davison.
A third reason for the merger is to be ready for the proposed cuts in Medicaid suggested by the federal government’s Medical Health Care Act. If the policy is approved by the House of Representatives, the proposal is to cut Medicaid by $880 billion in the nation and $31 billion in New Jersey over the next 10 years, explains Davison.
NJ’s public mental health programs are funded through Medicaid, with the majority of their funding from the NJ Department of Human Services .
“We feel a duty to do it now [merge] to maintain critical services to our families and clients,” says Davison.
As a result of the merger, administration will be streamlined but services will stay the same, says Davison. Both agencies provide similar programs and core services are the same.
The MHAEC has been providing services to individuals suffering from severe and persistent mental illness as well as a whole range of other behavioral health challenges since it was established in 1950. It currently provides service to about 1,000 clients.
The MHAMC, which was founded in 1953, has been providing similar programs and services to about 800 consumers.
Once merged, the two offices will remain open and continue to function in both counties, at separate locations.
The plan is to continue “looking to maintain what we are currently doing,” says Davison. It is “hoping to expand services in each county,” in the future.
To learn more about the programs and the agency, call (973) 509-9777 in Essex County; or (973) 334-3496 in Morris County.