Reimbursements up for treating mentally ill in Nevada

Nevada officials on Wednesday received the green light from federal officials on a crucial part of the plan to reduce the number of mentally ill patients seeking treatment at valley emergency rooms.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved an increase in the daily psychiatric reimbursement rate from $460 a day to $944 a day, said Dr. Tracey Green, the state’s chief medical officer. The increase is retroactive to July 1.

State officials hope the increase will be an incentive for Valley Hospital Medical Center to proceed with its planned 50-bed psychiatric unit and for other Southern Nevada hospitals to consider adding beds for psychiatric patients to their facilities, Green said.

On Wednesday, 110 mentally ill patients were waiting in emergency departments across the valley, Green said.

“I’ll never say we’ll get to zero, but I can be hopeful,” he said. But the reimbursement increase “is definitely going to make a huge dent in our problems.”

The new reimbursement rate will apply to acute medical hospitals with psychiatric units and free-standing psychiatric facilities with 16 beds or fewer, Green said.

Last week, Karla Perez, vice president of the acute division for Universal Health Services, which owns the Valley Health System, said the expansion of 50 beds at Valley Hospital will be completed by Nov. 1, with an opening date of Dec. 1.

Perez said if the state didn’t receive approval for the new rate from the federal agency, the hospital would use those beds for general medical surgical care instead.

With Wednesday’s approval, the hospital will move forward with its psychiatric beds.

“This will provide our community’s mental health patients with faster access to the intervention and treatment they need,” Valley Health System spokeswoman Gretchen Papez said. “It will also enable us to use Southern Nevada’s ER beds for patients with critical medical needs.”

Valley Hospital is still on track to open its new behavioral health unit in early December, Papez said.

Katie Ryan, spokeswoman for the St. Rose Dominican Hospitals, said hospital officials don’t have any immediate plans to open a psychiatric unit.

“I think that for now we are still just evaluating,” she said.

When the 50 psychiatric beds at Valley Hospital move forward, they will “definitely” provide relief to other hospitals, Ryan said.

Brendan Bussmann, vice president for strategic development and marketing for Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, said he couldn’t comment Wednesday.

Local emergency departments now transfer mentally ill patients to Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Hospital in Las Vegas when a bed becomes available there. If more hospitals like Valley open psychiatric units, patients won’t stack up while waiting for a bed at Rawson-Neal.

“This change isn’t going to happen overnight,” Green said. But the rate increase is a “critical step.”

State officials submitted the increase request in June. It was one of several recommendations from a committee formed by Gov. Brian Sandoval in response to Southern Nevada’s unfolding mental health care crisis.

“Governor Sandoval has made it a top priority to implement the necessary changes to Nevada’s mental health system so the state and community partners could work to meet the needs of a growing mental health population,” said Mike Willden, the governor’s chief of staff.

He said the increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate “will help relieve pressure from emergency rooms and state facilities and, most importantly, guarantee more resources for those who are in need of care.”

Contact Yesenia Amaro at hamaro@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0440. Find her on Twitter: @YeseniaAmaro.