Hillcrest CEO says low Medicaid reimbursements to blame for ending programs

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) - The CEO of Hillcrest Family Services said the organization has had to end some programs due to low Medicaid reimbursements.

A room at Hillcrest Family Service's subacute mental health unit on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (Allison Wong/KCRG-TV9)

Hillcrest recently announced it's closing the Jones County Mental Health Center, and a subacute center in Dubuque. CEO Francie Tuescher the state's Medicaid reimbursement rate isn't enough to support the sub-acute center.

"What we would need for rates is about $260 per day, per bed, higher than what it is currently," Tuescher said.

These aren't the only closures Hillcrest has faced. In March, the organization announced it was ending four other programs. Tuescher said these decisions are for the good of the entire organization.

"We’re making very wise decisions," Tuescher said. "They are not easy decisions. They are tough decisions, but we need to make sure that we’re around to provide services to everyone that needs them.”

Tuescher said another problem facing the organization is getting timely payments from the state's Managed Care Organizations. In November 2018, former CEO Julie Heiderscheit told KCRG-TV9 that Hillcrest was waiting on $800,000 from the MCO's. Tuescher said that's still true today.

"I think if you talked with providers across the state in relation to Iowa Total Care, we’re having a hard time getting paid at all from them," Tuescher said.

Tuescher recently replaced Hillcrest's former CEO Julie Heiderscheit. The organization hasn't given a reason for Heiderscheit's departure, but Tuescher said it wasn't money-related.

“I don’t believe that there was any mismanagement of money. I believe what you’re seeing is a product of our environment," Tuescher said.

People in Dubuque are particularly troubled by the sub-acute center closing. It's a place where people in a mental health crisis can be stabilized. Heather Jenkinson, a psychiatric registered nurse at MercyONE in Dubuque, said she sees the need for the sub-acute center each day she works.

“We have so many patients that have to wait months just to get an appointment for medication management. So they come into our emergency room and they’re looking for a bed on our unit. A lot of times we’re full. We have such a demand for our unit that we have to place them in other places," Jenkinson said.

Oftentimes, those people are sent to the sub-acute unit.

Jenkinson started an online petition showing support for Hillcrest's sub-acute center. She is also encouraging people to attend the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors meeting on Monday, December 9. She hopes this, along with making calls to Governor Kim Reynolds and state lawmakers, will increase funding.

"Ultimately, I hope that would be the goal. To do whatever we can to keep this program up and running," Jenkinson said.

The Hillcrest sub-acute center is set to close by the end of the year. Tuescher said they're trying to set up crisis beds to fill the gap. Hillcrest will also continue to provide its 24/7 mobile crisis unit.

“We are still able to provide services. We’re still here, we’re still providing services," Tuescher said.