Auburn mental-health agency closes, stranding unpaid caregivers statewide

Posted Oct. 04, 2010, at 9:30 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — An Auburn-based agency that provided billing and other support services for about 550 mental health providers across the state has closed its doors permanently, a little more than a month after the state conducted a surprise visit and found serious deficiencies in its operations. The move leaves some Maine providers wondering when and whether they will be paid for the counseling and case management services they have rendered.

In an e-mail sent to contracted providers Monday morning, Possibilities Counseling CEO Wendy Bergeron announced the closure. She said the outcome of efforts to secure a line of credit are “bleak,” and that conditions placed on the agency by the Maine Department of Licensing and Regulation are “burdensome.”

She assured providers they would be paid for services provided in September. A team of “attorneys, financial consultants and forensic accountants are working diligently … to resolve barriers to reimbursement” for services delivered before September’s billing, Bergeron wrote. Providers who contract with the company serve an estimated 10,000 Maine clients.

According to Bangor social worker Priscilla Goss, many providers haven’t been paid since mid-August. Most of her own clients are enrolled in MaineCare, the state and federally funded program for low-income residents.

Her efforts to get answers from the agency by phone and e-mail have been fruitless. “As far as I know, they never even billed [for September services],” she said.

Becky Jo Cummings, who provides mental health case management services in Bangor through MaineCare, said the situation is forcing her and her business partner into financial ruin.

“My house is going into foreclosure because I can’t make the payments,” she said. Possibilities owes her and her partner about $14,000 in back payments, she said. Like Goss, she said the company has not responded to requests for information.

Neither Bergeron nor company vice president Eric Rutberg responded Monday to calls and e-mails from the Bangor Daily News requesting an interview.

Records received Monday from the state Department of Health and Human Services showed that Possibilities received more than $358,000 in September from the MaineCare program. Department spokesman John Martins said MaineCare staff will work with providers to help them submit bills for any services that have not already been paid.

According to a story last week in the Lewiston Sun Journal, DHHS inspectors found a number of problems at Possibilities when they conducted a surprise visit on Aug. 26, including friends and families of staff working without training or background checks, a number of unpaid claims and violations of state and federal privacy regulations.

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