Mecklenburg Co. may give up on county-run MeckLINK health care system

by: Allison Latos Updated:

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MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. - After spending millions of taxpayer dollars to begin operations, Mecklenburg County may give up the county-run Medicaid mental health care system MeckLINK.

"We can't keep spending money and putting good money after bad," said Commission Chair Pat Cotham. "No matter what we did, the state had a different attitude and the want to have fewer of these organizations."

In June, lawmakers decided MeckLINK must either run as an independent single-county authority, which would take control away from the county, or could merge with another multi-county company by April 2014.

Next week a committee will recommend the second option, suggesting commissioners vote to join Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions of Kannapolis, the only company interested in a takeover.

"I think Cardinal is a stable and well managed network," said mental health provider Mark Brown.

Since MeckLINK began handling Medicaid claims in March, Brown said many of his patients at Melange Health Solutions have been denied mental health treatment. and he had to lay off several office employees.

"We've had a young girl 13 years old who was sexually assaulted by a relative who attempted suicide and attempted to smother a relative," he said. "She needed services. We tried a lower-level service and she needed higher-level services. That was denied by MeckLINK."

It still is not clear is whether Cardinal will reimburse the county any of the $8.5 million in tax dollars spent to get MeckLINK off the ground or how many of the 200 MeckLINK employees they'll hire.

"There's no guarantee but I think they're going to give us the best effort they can," said Cotham.

If commissioners approve the merger, Cotham said it will likely happen in the first quarter of next year.

She said the county will get to choose a member to sit on Cardinal's board.