Strategic Planning with BHBusiness Learning: PORT Human Services

Submitted by: 11/06/2013 by Maureen Fitzgerald

Tom Savidge has served as CEO of PORT Human Services since it launched in 2003. The organization began with just 35 employees at one location in Greenville, North Carolina. Since then, the staff has grown to include 284 employees at 28 physical locations. During fiscal year 2012-2013 the organization served 18,958 unique clients from 36 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

PORT Human Services was also a grantee in the Strengthening Treatment Access and Retention (STAR) demonstration grant, which played a pivotal role in launching the NIATx model, along with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded Paths to Recovery grants.

“We actually built our organization from the ground up using the NIATx framework,” explains Savidge. “It helped us to look at things differently than we would have otherwise as a new organization. We attribute much of our success today to the NIATx model,” he adds.

The continuous quality improvement that NIATx champions is a guiding principle at PORT Human Services, one that made it easy for Savidge and members of his team to join a BHBusiness learning network.

Savidge, along with Chief Financial Officer Sandy Shirtz and Reimbursement manager Sharon Rountree, participated in the Strategic Business Planning Learning Network (March-September 2013.)

“From our experience with NIATx, we knew that BHBusiness would be a quality training product,” Savidge states. “And while we had significant experience in strategic planning and business model development, we knew we could learn more.” Savidge also appreciated being able to share his organization’s experience and serve as a mentor to organizations newer to strategic planning.

Guidance from BHBusiness coach Nancy Jackels helped Savidge and his team recognize that sustaining improvements requires as much attention as making improvements. “We were at a point where we needed some affirmation that we were on the right track,” says Savidge. “Our experience with BHBusiness reminded us of what is working and also gave us some new tools for making improvements. We always seem to do better when we are reminded what to do instead of being told what to do.”  

Savidge cites the market analysis he and his team completed as particularly helpful, especially in identifying the need to maximize payments from third-party payers. The organization’s primary payment sources in the past had been Medicaid, Medicare, and the state insurance plan for the uninsured and underinsured.

“At about the same time that we joined the Learning Network, we were beginning to see more people with private insurance coverage,” says Savidge. “Working with third-party payers was something we did not give the necessary attention to, and we were not managing it well.”

Through the market analysis Savidge and his team found that PORT Human Services was losing revenue by accepting all insurance plans. “We weren’t on all of the payers’ panels as an approved provider,” he explains. “We weren’t doing the research on their reimbursement requirements, especially for clinician credentialing, and we saw how much revenue we were losing due to claim denials because of that.”

After reviewing the available plans, PORT Human Services chose to pursue contracts with just six private insurers, rather than the 24 it previously accepted. Another change involved developing a better system for managing co-pays. “We found that we were losing a lot of revenue by simply not asking for co-pays.”

The results of this change were striking. In FY12-13 Port Human Services collected $14,138.00 in co-pays. By making changes to co-pay collection, the agency has collected $31,005 from copays in just the first quarter of FY13-14 (July 1-September 30, 2013.) “That’s double the amount the we collected in the previous fiscal year,” comments Savidge.

Participating in the Strategic Business Planning Learning Network includes creating a strategic plan for organizations new to the process. For PORT Human Services, which already had a strategic plan, coach Nancy Jackels provided an expert review.

“Nancy gave us some good tips on how to develop better measures for our desired outcomes,” says Savidge. As an example, he cites a strategic goal to enhance and increase the use of technology to create more internal and external efficiencies.

“With Nancy’s help we were able to define and develop measureable objectives,” explains Savidge. As a result, the team established concrete goals and target dates for implementing a centralized call center that will replace the 30 call centers now operating separately in the organization’s clinics.

Savidge and his team appreciated that the learning network was set up to accommodate the schedules of busy professionals.

“The quality of the online learning modules and videos really exceeded our expectations,” says Savidge. To guarantee that they made time to complete the required work, the three scheduled a standing meeting each week to view the modules and videos together.

Savidge is considering signing on for one of the other learning networks in the series, and encourages other substance abuse treatment organizations to participate as well.

“BHBusiness offers free high-quality instruction and support from national experts, along with a chance to learn from peers across the country. It’s hard to find a better training combination for behavioral health professionals.”

BHBusiness: Mastering Essential Business Operations is now accepting applications for a second round of learning networks. Visit BHBusiness today for more information and application instructions. 

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