Children’s Behavioral Health Provider to Close All Arkansas Facilities

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Arkansas Times) — Ascent Children’s Health Services, which provides behavioral health and early childhood development services at ten sites across Arkansas, will close all facilities in the state by the end of November. The state Department of Human Services announced the news in a press release Tuesday morning.

On September 19, Ascent said it would close three of its facilities — in Arkadelphia, North Little Rock and West Memphis — by October 17. This week, it announced plans to close its remaining seven sites as well.

Facilities in Batesville, Benton and Blytheville will cease operations on November 1. Those in Jonesboro, Mountain Home, Paragould and Trumann will close on Nov. 30.

No word yet on how many patients will be affected. DHS said it will be sending beneficiaries a list of other providers in their area that accept Medicaid. The agency said families looking for assistance should call the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care (AFMC) Medicaid Beneficiary Service Center at 1-833-402-0672 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

Last week, a group of mental health providers held a rally at the state Capitol to protest what they say are unsustainable cuts to Medicaid reimbursement rates for behavioral health. The protestors said other changes being made at DHS — such as more stringent licensure requirements for certain classes of mental health professionals — also threatened to drive some providers out of business. However, it’s not yet clear whether Ascent’s closure is tied to those rate cuts or something else.

Ascent received unwanted attention last year when a child died after being left in a van at the West Memphis facility. (Criminal charges were filed against workers at the site and the agency was placed under review by the state’s Office of Medicaid Inspector General.)

Ascent issued a statement that said in full:

The decision to close our children’s treatment centers in the State is one that had to be made from a budgetary standpoint. We have been partners with the State of Arkansas for over 20 years and are grateful for the relationship. While we’re having to make these tough budget decisions, we will continue to provide all of our other inpatient and outpatient behavioral health care services in the State. We will work with the DHS and other providers to ensure a smooth transition.

In August, the attorney general office acknowledged ongoing investigations into Medicaid fraud at Arkansas behavioral health providers. When asked, DHS spokeswoman Amy Webb said the agency was not aware of any suggestion of fraud or illegal activity at Ascent.

Webb also provided the number of Medicaid beneficiaries each Ascent location has served since July 1, 2017. “Given this is data dating back more than a year, some of these beneficiaries may no longer be served at an Ascent facility,” she cautioned. The numbers:

Batesville – 196
Benton – 239
Blytheville – 185
Jonesboro – 286
Mountain Home – 375
Paragould – 167
Trumann — 237