Centers form new mental health partnership

Published: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 3, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.

Three regional mental health care providers announced last Wednesday that they are merging.

The providers — Gainesville-based Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, the Centers in Ocala and Leesburg-based LifeStream Behavioral Center — say the move will best position them to adapt to the changing health care environment and to better serve clients.

“The opportunities are endless,” said Centers CEO Charles Powell. “This is the most optimistic I’ve been in the 30-something years (I’ve been involved in mental health care).”

During an afternoon news conference at the Centers, chief executives and board chairpersons of the three providers signed a letter of intent to continue the merger process, which began eight months ago.

Powell said merging would allow each organization to utilize and learn from the expertise of the others.

Although each organization provides basic mental health care, each also puts some of its focus on specialized care.

The Centers, for example, has extensive child welfare and case management expertise, Powell said.

LifeStream works closely with the state when creating new mental health programs, said LifeStream Chairman Tim Morris.

And Meridian does significant work with people who have mental health issues and have been arrested and face potential jail or prison time, said Meridian CEO Maggie Labarta.

Clients will benefit because demand for some services, such as autism services, are not large enough to warrant them being provided only by one organization. But they could be warranted by the merged, larger group, Labarta said.

Jon Cherry, Lifestream’s CEO, said before the press conference that the merger will also have financial benefits.

The merged, single company would serve a larger demographic — about 1.4 million people in 14 counties — and be better positioned to win service contracts as a result, he said. The newly merged company would also have greater political power in Tallahassee, he said.

The merger, if it is completed, will create Florida’s largest single mental health care provider.

Currently, each serves about 15,000 clients. Meridian has an annual $31 million budget, the Centers a $32 million budget and LifeStream a $34 million budget.

Fred Hiers is an Ocala Star-Banner staff writer.

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