Why a Denver-area community health center is merging with a mental health care provider
Health & Fitness

Why a Denver-area community health center is merging with a mental health care provider

Two large health care organizations that serve historically disadvantaged populations in the northwestern Denver metro area — one that focuses on physical health care, the other focused on mental health care — have announced plans to merge.

Leaders of Clinica Family Health and Mental Health Partners say the merger will allow the two organizations to sustainably deliver more comprehensive care to their communities. The combined organization, which will be called Clinica Family Health & Wellness, will provide physical, behavioral and oral health care in locations in Boulder, Broomfield, Gilpin and Adams counties.

“More than anything else, this merger is about our patients and clients,” Clinica president and CEO Simon Smith said in a statement.

Both founding organizations, as well as the combined organization, are nonprofits.

The merger comes just months after two other, large community mental health centers — WellPower and Jefferson Center — announced plans to merge, a decision driven in part by changes in how such centers are funded and regulated at the state level.

Community mental health centers like Mental Health Partners, as well as federally qualified health centers, such as Clinica, typically see a lot of patients who are covered by government insurance programs like Medicaid or Medicare. That means policy changes in those programs, including the state’s plan to make funding for mental health centers more competitive, can have enormous impacts on the sustainability of their business models. Combined with the increasing costs of providing medical care, there is growing pressure on community-focused clinics to merge in order to survive.

In the news release, the two organizations said the merger would provide “increased opportunities to realize diversification of revenue, strengthen combined assets, and position the organization towards the future evolution of the health care system.”

The organizations said the merger will also give them an advantage in recruiting and training new staff, as well as the ability to increase access to care.

Dixie Casford, Mental Health Partners’ co-CEO, said in a statement that the merger gives the combined organization a bigger voice in policy discussions.

“Joining together enables us to advocate more effectively for health equity,” Casford said. “As a combined entity, we aim to positively impact policies, systems, and funding structures in ways we could not do individually.”

A sign reading "Family Friendly Parking" outside Clinica Family Health
Lafayette, Colorado-based Clinica Family Health has announced it will merge with Mental Health Partners in a deal that will allow the two organizations to more efficiently deliver comprehensive care in Boulder, Broomfield, Gilpin and Adams counties. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

The merger also is in keeping with a trend to combine physical and mental health services in one place, to better create a “warm handoff” between the different types of care that are often needed to work together to address a health issue.

“We’re building spaces where your primary care provider can work right alongside your mental health care and oral health care providers,” Jen Leosz, Mental Health Partners’ other co-CEO, said in a statement. “By setting up an environment for strong communication among your team of providers, we can accomplish shared goals for improved health much more effectively.”

Clinica has eight locations that serve nearly 59,000 patients per year. The combined organization will be led by Smith, with Leosz moving into the role of chief integrated health officer and Casford serving as chief administrative officer.

The board for the combined organization will be made up of members from Clinica’s and Mental Health Partners’ boards. A majority of the board members will continue to be patients, something Clinica said it adopted to give oversight and influence to those the center serves.