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COVID's impact on behavioral health: Solutions for state agencies

By: Sarah Stacki, Melinda Kirrane,

Danielle is a Senior Consultant in the State Government Practice Group. Based in Washington, her expertise includes a variety of aspects of behavioral health, project management, policy analysis, policy development, and stakeholder engagement. Danielle has experience in healthcare and public health, program development, program management, strategic planning, and Medicaid, including the Section 1115 Waiver. In her work with state agencies, she builds collaborative relationships and serves as a trusted partner.

Danielle Stumpf
01.04.22

Read this if you are a behavioral health agency leader looking for solutions to manage mental health, substance misuse, and overdose crises.

As state health departments across the country continue to grapple with rising COVID-19 cases, stalling vaccination rates, and public heath workforce burnout, other crises in behavioral health may be looming. Diverted resources, disruption in treatment, and the mental stress of the COVID-19 pandemic have exacerbated mental health disorders, substance use, and drug overdoses.

State agencies need behavioral health solutions perhaps now more than ever. BerryDunn works with state agencies to mitigate the challenges of managing behavioral health and implement innovative strategies and solutions to better serve beneficiaries. Read on to understand how conducting a needs assessment, redesigning processes, and/or establishing a strategic plan can amplify the impact of your programs. 

Behavioral health in crisis

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorders has steadily increased over the past decade, and the pandemic has exacerbated these trends. A number of recently released studies show increases in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. One CDC study indicates that in June 2020 over 40% of adults reported an adverse mental or behavioral health condition, which includes about 13% who have started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19.1 

The toll on behavioral health outcomes is compounded by the pandemic’s disruption to behavioral health services. According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, 65% of behavioral health organizations have had to cancel, reschedule, or turn away patients, even as organizations see a dramatic increase in the demand for services.2,3 Moreover, treatment facilities and harm reduction programs across the country have scaled back services or closed entirely due to social distancing requirements, insufficient personal protective equipment, budget shortfalls, and other challenges.4 These disruptions in access to care and service delivery are having a severe impact.

Several studies indicate that patients report new barriers to care or changes in treatment and support services after the onset of the pandemic.5, 6 Barriers to care are particularly disruptive for people with substance use disorders. Social isolation and mental illness, coupled with limited treatment options and harm reduction services, creates a higher risk of suicide ideation, substance misuse, and overdose deaths.

For example, the opioid epidemic was still surging when the pandemic began, and rates of overdose have since spiked or elevated in every state across the country.7 After a decline of overdose deaths in 2018 for the first time in two decades, the CDC reported 81,230 overdose deaths from June 2019 to May 2020, the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded in a 12-month period.8 

These trends do not appear to be improving. On October 3, the CDC reported that from March 2020 to March 2021, overdose deaths have increased 29.6% compared to the previous year, and that number will only continue to climb as more data comes in.9  

As the country continues to experience an increase in mental illness, suicide, and substance use disorders, states are in need of capacity and support to identify and/or implement strategies to mitigate these challenges. 

Solutions for state agencies

Behavioral health has been recognized as a priority issue and service area that will require significant resources and innovation. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra reestablished the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to facilitate collaborative, innovative, transparent, equitable, and action-oriented approaches to address the HHS behavioral health agenda. The 2022 budget allocates $1.6 billion to the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant, which is more than double the Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding and $3.9 billion more than in FY 2020, to address the opioid epidemic in addition to other substance use disorders.10 

As COVID-19 continues to exacerbate behavioral health issues, states need innovative solutions to take on these challenges and leverage additional federal funding. COVID-19 is still consuming the time of many state leaders and staff, so states have a limited capacity to plan, implement, and manage the new initiatives to adequately address these issues. Here are three ways health departments can capitalize on the additional funding.

Conduct a needs assessment to identify opportunities to improve use of data and program outcomes

Despite meeting baseline reporting requirements, state agencies often lack sufficient quality data to assess program outcomes, identify underserved populations, and obtain a holistic view of the comprehensive system of care for behavioral health services. Although state agencies may be able to recognize challenges in the delivery or administration of behavioral health services, it can be difficult to identify solutions that result in sustained improvements.

By performing a structured needs assessment, health departments can evaluate their processes, systems, and resources to better understand how they are using data, and how to optimize programs to tailor behavioral health services and promote better health outcomes and a more equitable distribution of care. This analysis provides the insight for agencies to understand not only the strengths and challenges of the current environment, but also the desires and opportunities for a future solution that takes into account stakeholder needs, best practice, and emerging technologies. 

Some of the benefits we have seen our clients enjoy as a result of performing a needs assessment include: 

  • Discovering and validating strengths and challenges of current state operations through independent evaluation
  • Establishing a clear roadmap for future business and technological improvements
  • Determining costs and benefits of new, alternative, or enhanced systems and/or processes
  • Identifying the specific business and technical requirements to achieve and improve performance outcomes 

Timely, accurate, and comprehensive data is critical to improving behavioral health outcomes, and the information gathered during a needs assessment can inform further activities that support programmatic improvements. Further activities might include conducting a fit-gap analysis, performing business process redesign, establishing a prioritization matrix, and more. By identifying the greatest needs and implementing plans to address them, state agencies can better handle the impact on behavioral health services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and serve individuals with mental health or substance use disorders more efficiently and effectively.

Redesign processes to improve how individuals access treatment and services

Despite the availability of behavioral health services, inefficient business and technical processes can delay and frustrate individuals seeking care and in some cases, make them stop seeking care altogether. With limited resources and increasing demands, behavioral health agencies should analyze and redesign work flows to maximize efficiency, security, and efficacy. Here are a few examples of process improvements states can achieve through process redesign:

  • Streamlined data processes to reduce duplicative data entry 
  • Automated and aligned manual data collection processes 
  • Integrated siloed health information systems
  • Focused activities to maximize staff strengths
  • Increased process transparency to improve communication and collaboration 

By placing the consumer experience at the core of all services, state health departments can redesign business and technical processes to optimize the continuum of care. A comprehensive approach takes into account all aspects that contribute to the delivery of behavioral health services, including both administrative and financial processes. This helps ensure interconnected activities continue to be performed efficiently and effectively. Such improvements help consumers with co-occurring disorders (mental illness and substance use disorder) and/or developmental disorders find “no wrong door” when seeking care. 

Establish a strategic plan of action to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic

With the influx of available dollars resulting from the American Recovery Plan Act and other state and federal investments, health departments have a unique opportunity to fund specific initiatives to enhance the delivery and administration of behavioral health services. Understanding how to allocate the millions of newly awarded dollars in an impactful and sustainable way can be challenging. Furthermore, the additional reporting and compliance requirements linked to the funding can be difficult to navigate in addition to current monitoring obligations. 

The best way to begin using the available funding is to develop and implement strategic plans that optimize funds for behavioral health programs and services. You can establish priorities and identify sustainable solutions that build capacity, streamline operations, and promote the equitable distribution of care across populations. A few of the activities state health departments have undertaken resulting from the strategic planning initiatives include: 

  • Modernizing IT systems, including data management solutions and Electronic Health Records systems to support inpatient, outpatient, and community mental health and substance use programs 
  • Promoting organizational change management 
  • Establishing grant programs for community-driven solutions to promote health equity for the underserved population
  • Organizing, managing, and/or supporting stakeholder engagement efforts to effectively collaborate with internal and external stakeholders for a strong and comprehensive approach

The prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder were areas of concern prior to COVID-19, and the pandemic has only made these issues worse, while adding more administrative challenges. State health departments have had to redirect their existing staff to work to address COVID-19, leaving a limited capacity to manage existing state-level programs and little to no capacity to plan and implement new initiatives. 

The federal administration and HHS are working to provide financial support to states to work to address these exacerbated health concerns; however, with the limited state capacity, states need additional support to plan, implement, and/or manage new initiatives. BerryDunn has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience in conducting needs assessments, redesigning processes, and establishing strategic plans that are aimed at amplifying the impact of state programs. Contact our behavioral health consulting team to learn more about how we can help. 

Sources:
Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
National Council for Behavioral Health Polling Presentation, thenationalcouncil.org
The Impact of COVID-19 on Syringe Services Programs in the United States, nih.gov
COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Harm Reduction Services: An Environmental Scan, thenationalcouncil.org
COVID-19-Related Treatment Service Disruptions Among People with Single- and Polysubstance Use Concerns, Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment
Issue Brief: Nation’s Drug-Related Overdose and Death Epidemic Continues to Worsen, American Medical Association
Increase in Fatal Drug Overdoses Across the United States Driven by Synthetic Opioids Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic, CDC.gov
Provisional Drug Overdose Death Counts, CDC.gov
10 Fiscal Year 2022 Budget in Brief: Strengthening Health and Opportunity for All Americans, HHS.gov

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Principals

BerryDunn experts and consultants

  • Sarah Stacki
    Senior Consultant
    State Health and Human Services
    T 207.541.2304

CYSHCN programs have new care coordination standards―how does your agency measure up?

On October 15, 2020, the National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) released new care coordination standards for Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN) programs. The National Care Coordination Standards supplement the National Standards for Systems of Care, helping to ensure that children and youth with special health care needs receive the high-quality care coordination needed to address their specific health conditions.

The standards also set requirements for screening, identification, and assessment, a comprehensive shared plan of care, coordinated team-based communication, development of child and family empowerment skills, a well-trained care coordination workforce, and smooth care transitions. 

What do the standards mean for CYSHCN programs

The National Care Coordination Standards are more than guidelines for CYSHCN programs; aligning with the standards can lead to operational efficiencies, greater program capacity, and improved health outcomes. The standards can serve as a lens for continuous improvement, highlighting where programs can make changes that reduce the burden on care coordinators and program administrators.

However, striving to meet the standards can be challenging for many programs—as the standards develop and evolve over time, many programs struggle to keep up with the work required to update processes and retrain staff. Assessing a CYSHCN program’s processes and procedures takes time and resources that many state agencies do not have available. Despite the challenge, when state agencies are the most strapped is often when making change is the most needed. A shrinking public health workforce and growing population of CYSHCN means smooth processes are essential. To take steps towards National Care Coordination Standards alignment, BerryDunn recommends the following approach: 

A proven methodology for national standards alignment

There are many ways you can align with the standards. Here are three areas to focus on that can help you guide your agency to successful alignment. 

  1. Know your program
    It can be easy for processes to deteriorate over time. Process mapping is an effective way to shed light on current work flows and begin to determine holes in the processes. Conducting fact-finding sessions to map out exactly how your program functions can help pinpoint areas of strength―and areas where there is room for improvement.
  2. Compare to the national standards
    Identify the gaps with a cross-walk of your program’s current procedures with the National Care Coordination Standards. We assess your alignment through a gap analysis of the process, highlighting how your program lines up with the new standards.
  3. Adopt the changes and reap the benefits
    Process redesign can help implement the standards, and even small adjustments to processes can lead to better outcomes. Additionally, you can deploy proven change management methodologies programs that ease staff into new processes to produce real results.

Meeting national standards doesn’t have to be complicated. Our team partners with state public health agencies, helping to meet best practices without adding additional burden to program staff. We can help you take the moving pieces and complex tasks and funnel them into a streamlined process that gives your state’s children and youth the best care coordination. 

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Using process redesign to align with new CYSHCN standards

Read this if you work at a public health department and would like a brief summary of how you can maximize funding and meet new federal requirements.

Unpacking the trillions

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several pieces of legislation were passed by congress and signed into law. The three bills, H.R. 6074 Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, H.R. 6201 Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and H.R. 748 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, have provided funding for various federal agencies with different roles in responding to the crisis. Because of the urgency required, much of the guidance for use of funds and reporting requirements were released after passage of the bills or have yet to be released.

Here is a brief timeline and summary of the acts:

Implication and next steps for state public health departments

While little guidance has been provided for how state public health departments should prepare to access federal funds, BerryDunn will continue to monitor and release updates as they become available. 

While at this point HR 6074 has the greatest implications for public health departments, here are some actions that states should take now for their public health programs from the recent legislation:

  1. H.R. 6074: Provides appropriations to the CDC to be allocated to states for COVID-19 expenses.
    • To ensure maximum funding, prepare a spend plan to submit to CDC.
    • To ensure compliance, provide CDC with copies or access to COVID-19 data collected with these funds.
    • To maximize the impact of new funding, develop a COVID-19 community intervention plan.
    • To support streamlined operations, submit revised work plans to CDC.
    • To prevent missed deadlines, submit any requests for deadline extensions to the CDC.
  2. H.R. 6201: Provides guidance specific to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) programs.
    • To encourage social distancing and loosen administrative requirements, seek waivers through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
    • To ensure compliance, prepare to submit a report summarizing the use of waivers on population outcomes by March 2021.
  3. H.R. 748: Allocates $150 billion to a coronavirus relief fund for state, local, and tribal governments.
  • To secure funding, monitor the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for guidance on using funds for:
    • Coronavirus prevention and preparation
    • Tools to build health data infrastructure
    • COVID-19 Public Health Emergency expenses
    • Developing countermeasures and vaccines for coronavirus
    • Telehealth and rural health activities
       
  • To ensure HIPAA compliance when sharing protected patient health information, monitor the US Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) for guidance.

For more information

For specific issues your agency has, or if you have other questions, please contact us. We’re here to help. 

Article
COVID-19 laws and their impact on state public health agencies

Revolutionizing the way information is stored and received, blockchain is one of the most influential technologies of the past decade. Mostly known for its success with the digital payment system, Bitcoin, blockchain also has potential to transform the public sector, and further, the way citizens interact with government. Many states are considering this potential, but are stuck asking the most basic question: How can the public sector implement blockchain? The first step is to understand exactly what blockchain really is.

Blockchain—What is it?
At the highest level, blockchain is termed a Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT): data within a blockchain is not controlled by a single, centralized entity, but rather, is held by millions of systems simultaneously. This “chain” of systems, or DLT, not only decentralizes data, but also ensures it is incorruptible, as each “block” of data in the DLT connects using highly advanced encryption technology. Further, you can share each “block” without exposing the entirety of the blockchain’s data, enabling data sharing without compromising sensitive information. Blockchain’s opportunity lies in the core of its model, as being able to securely share records (containing sensitive information such as birth certificates, marriage licenses, property deeds, professional licenses, etc.), could connect different government services and create more efficient processes.

States across the nation are intrigued by the potential of blockchain, but unsure of just how to implement it successfully. Illinois, through the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, has been a leader in exploring blockchain’s possibilities in government. Here is some of their first-hand insight and advice.

Blockchain in Government—Illinois’ Perspective
Sunil Thomas, Cluster CIO, State of Illinois, assisted in the creation of the Illinois Blockchain Initiative in 2016, and is now a leader in testing and implementing blockchain technology across state services. BerryDunn connected with Sunil in August 2018, and he provided unique advice for other states considering a blockchain initiative.

Specifically, Sunil broke down the processes the Initiative used to advance the technology within the state, and shared three key pieces of advice for successful blockchain implementation:

  1. Host a statewide education campaign for blockchain to ensure all state leaders, including legislators, are equipped with a clear understanding of blockchain technology and its place in government. This education campaign may include extensive research into blockchain technology. Illinois, for instance, began their initiative by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) from vendors within the blockchain market. Additionally, Illinois collaborated with a local start-up that specializes in blockchain in order to gain subject matter expertise into blockchain development. 
  2. Initiate organized pilot projects to guide the direction of blockchain in the state and select what use cases should go through the full implementation process. At first, you should use blockchain projects to complement current state services. This ensures continuation of services, and allows for comprehensive transition time. Additionally, states should ask the questions: Why shouldn’t this service be delivered using a traditional solution?, and further, Why do we specifically need blockchain for this solution?, before each pilot. This will help you leverage the right services, with the greatest potential, as pilot blockchain projects.
  3. Create a statewide roadmap for blockchain to build an ecosystem that supports the technology. This “Blockchain Roadmap” should highlight a navigation plan for both state and federal regulations, and ensure that blockchain procurement strategies are understood. The roadmap can include a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis to determine a return on investment (ROI) for specific services considered for blockchain leverage. Overall, the roadmap will act as a guide throughout the entirety of the blockchain initiative, and will ensure the state’s vision for blockchain is achievable.

These key pieces of advice can provide a foundation for state’s looking to leverage blockchain to improve services; although each state should tailor blockchain technology to its specific needs. The Illinois Blockchain Initiative’s experience clearly demonstrates there is a way to navigate blockchain successfully in the public sector, and shows that the technology truly can assist in the transformation of government services moving forward.

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Blockchain in government: Advice from leaders at the Illinois Blockchain Initiative

Modernization means different things to different people—especially in the context of state government. For some, it is the cause of a messy chain reaction that ends (at best) in frustration and inefficiency. For others, it is the beneficial effect of a thoughtful and well-planned series of steps. The difference lies in the approach to transition - and states will soon discover this as they begin using the new Comprehensive Child Welfare Information System (CCWIS), a case management information system that helps them provide citizens with customized child welfare services.

The benefits of CCWIS are numerous and impressive, raising the bar for child welfare and providing opportunities to advance through innovative technology that promotes interoperability, flexibility, improved management, mobility, and integration. However, taking advantage of these benefits will also present challenges. Gone are the days of the cookie-cutter, “one-size-fits-all” approach. Here are five facts to consider as you transition toward an effective modernization.

  1. There are advantages and challenges to buying a system versus building a system internally. CCWIS transition may involve either purchasing a complete commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product that suits the state, or constructing a new system internally with the implementation of a few purchased modules. To decide which option is best, first assess your current systems and staff needs. Specifically, consider executing a cost-benefit analysis of options, taking into account internal resource capabilities, feasibility, flexibility, and time. This analysis will provide valuable data that help you assess the current environment and identify functional gaps. Equipped with this information, you should be ready to decide whether to invest in a COTS product, or an internally-built system that supports the state’s vision and complies with new CCWIS regulations.
     
  2. Employ a modular approach to upgrading current systems or building new systems. The Children’s Bureau—an office of the Administration for Children & Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services—defines “modularity” as the breaking down of complex functions into separate, manageable, and independent components. Using this modular approach, CCWIS will feature components that function independently, simplifying future upgrades or procurements because they can be completed on singular modules rather than the entire system. Modular systems create flexibility, and enable you to break down complex functions such as “Assessment and Intake,” “Case Management,” and “Claims and Payment” into modules during CCWIS transition. This facilitates the development of a sustainable system that is customized to the unique needs of your state, and easily allows for future augmentation.
     
  3. Use Organizational Change Management (OCM) techniques to mitigate stakeholder resistance to change. People are notoriously resistant to change. This is especially true during a disruptive project that impacts day-to-day operations—such as building a new or transitional CCWIS system. Having a comprehensive OCM plan in place before your CCWIS implementation can help ensure that you assign an effective project sponsor, develop thorough project communications, and enact strong training methods. A clear OCM strategy should help mitigate employee resistance to change and can also support your organization in reaching CCWIS goals, due to early buy-in from stakeholders who are key to the project’s success.
     
  4. Data governance policies can help ensure you standardize mandatory data sharing. For example, the Children’s Bureau notes that a Title IV-E agency with a CCWIS must support collaboration, interoperability, and data sharing by exchanging data with Child Support Systems?Title IV-D, Child Abuse/Neglect Systems, Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS), and many others as described by the Children’s Bureau.

    Security is a concern due to the large amount of data sharing involved with CCWIS systems. Specifically, if a Title IV-E agency with a CCWIS does not implement foundational data security measures across all jurisdictions, data could become vulnerable, rendering the system non-compliant. However, a data governance framework with standardized policies in place can protect data and surrounding processes.
     
  5. Continuously refer to federal regulations and resources. With the change of systems comes changes in federal regulations. Fortunately, the Children’s Bureau provides guidance and toolkits to assist you in the planning, development, and implementation of CCWIS. Particularly useful documents include the “Child Welfare Policy Manual,” “Data Sharing for Courts and Child Welfare Agencies Toolkit,” and the “CCWIS Final Rule”. A comprehensive list of federal regulations and resources is located on the Children’s Bureau website.

    Additionally, the Children’s Bureau will assign an analyst to each state who can provide direction and counsel during the CCWIS transition. Continual use of these resources will help you reduce confusion, avoid obstacles, and ultimately achieve an efficient modernization program.

Modernization doesn’t have to be messy. Learn more about how OCM and data governance can benefit your agency or organization.

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Five things to keep in mind during your CCWIS transition

Is your Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) agency struggling with Maintenance and Enhancement (M&E) vendor management? Here are some approaches to help improve your situation: 

  • Product Management Office (PdMO): Product management can help you manage your WIC system by coordinating and planning releases with the M&E vendor, prioritizing enhancements, reviewing workflows, and providing overall vendor management.
  • Project Management Office (PMO): Project management can help with budgeting, resource management, risk management, and organization. 
  • A blend of product and project management is a great partnership that can relieve some of the responsibilities of WIC agency staff and allows a third party to provide support in all areas of product and project management.

Whether you are an independent WIC State Agency (SA) or a multi-state consortium (MSC), having a PMO and/or PdMO can help alleviate some of the challenges facing WIC today. While an MSC may present significant cost savings, managing an M&E contract for multiple states can be overwhelming. Independent state agencies (SAs) may not have multiple states to coordinate with, but having the staff resources for vendor facilitation and implementing federal changes can be challenging. A PMO/PdMO can aid in improving business and technology outcomes for SAs and MSCs by bringing a level of coordination and consistency that otherwise might not happen. 

As federal changes grow in complexity, evidenced by the many changes to WIC stemming from the American Rescue Plan Act, coupled with workforce challenges in government, the importance of a PMO/PdMO has never been greater. Here are six ways a PMO/PdMO can help you:

  1. Facilitate the vendor relationship
    A PMO/PdMO not only holds the vendor accountable but also takes some of the workload off the SA by facilitating meetings, providing meeting notes, and tracking action items and decisions.
  2. Manage centrally located data
    A PMO/PdMO keeps all documents and data in a centralized location, fostering a collaborative environment and ease of access to needed information. A centralized location of data allows SAs to be on the same page for consistency, quality control, and to support the state’s need for clean, reliable information that is current and accurate.
  3. Track and mitigate risks 
    Effective risk management requires a substantial commitment of time and resources. The PMO/PdMO identifies, tracks, and assesses the severity of risks and suggests approaches to manage those risks. Some PMO/PdMOs assess all risks based on a severity index to help clients determine which risks need immediate action and which need monitoring.
  4.  Assist in the creation of Implementation Advanced Planning Document Updates (IAPDUs) 
    Creating and implementing an IAPDU can be time-consuming, confusing, and requires attention to detail. A PMO/PdMO alleviates time and pressure on SAs by helping to ensure that an IAPDU or funding request clearly outlines a plan of action to accomplish the activities necessary to reach an organization’s goal. PMO/PdMOs can draft IAPDUs to determine the need, feasibility, and projected costs and benefits for service. 
  5. Provide an unbiased, third-party opinion 
    A PMO/PdMO will offer an unbiased, third-party opinion to help avoid misunderstanding and frustration, decision stalemates, inadequate solutions, and unpleasant relationships between WIC agencies and M&E vendors. 
  6. Provide the right combination of business and technical expertise
    Staffing challenges (exacerbated by COVID-19), difficulties finding expertise managing software change management for WIC, and a retiring workforce knowledgeable in WIC system implementation have in some cases left SAs without critical resources. Having the right combination of skills from a third party can resolve some of these challenges.

Independent SAs or MSCs would benefit from having a PMO/PdMO to help meet the challenges WIC agencies face today, whether it is an unplanned funding change or updates to the risk codes. With the help of a PMO/PdMO developing standard practices and methodologies, SAs and MSCs can deliver and implement high-quality services more consistently and efficiently. The role of the PMO/PdMO is far-reaching and positively impacts WIC by providing backbone support for WIC’s overarching goal, to “safeguard the health of low-income women, infants, and children who are at nutrition risk.”

If you have questions about PMOs or PdMOs and the impact they can have on your agency, please contact us. We're here to help.

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Product Management Office: Benefits for WIC state agencies

Read this if your State Medicaid Agency is planning Medicaid Enterprise System enhancements.

Are you a system integrator (SI) or a State Medicaid Agency (SMA) implementing or enhancing a Medicaid system or specific module? Have you considered how decisions made during design and implementation could impact the federal Payment Error Rate Measurement (PERM) reviews for SMAs?

The goal of PERM is to measure and report an unbiased estimate of the true improper payment rate for Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Every state is reviewed once every three years using a sample that includes both fee for service (FFS) and managed care (MC) payments. A state assigned error rate is not the only consequence resulting from the PERM review; there are also financial implications.

Risk reduction from PERM review

Maintaining a focus on PERM review factors when making decisions during design and implementation can protect states by reducing the risk of:

  • Submitting change requests (CR) during implementation, which can result in additional cost and time
  • Implementing changes to existing Medicaid systems during maintenance and operations
  • Findings reported during certification efforts
  • Refunding federal dollars due to improperly paid claims
  • A reduction in federal match on all claims paid

It is also important to understand the benefits of a dedicated PERM team within the state organization that includes members from the system vendor and outside PERM experts. These benefits include providing states an additional level of security to help ensure a positive outcome to the federal PERM review, helping to protect federal funding.

Having a dedicated team will help ensure all decisions made during system updates and/or implementations are made while keeping focus on PERM requirements and the further impacts of PERM reviews, saving time and remaining compliant.

Plan ahead for best results

When planning for a new module or Medicaid system request for proposal (RFPs), consider PERM-related requirements to help ensure all PERM needs are met to prevent errors and repayment of federal funds. Including PERM requirements can also help your agency ensure federal compliance and successful PERM audits. Doing so will likely reduce the amount of time system integrators spend re-working earlier development decisions and help ensure claim payments are processed, and eligibility determinations are made in accordance with federal and state regulations.

If you have questions about PERM or your specific situation, please contact our Medicaid Consulting team. We’re here to help.

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PERM success for Medicaid agencies through system implementations

Read this if you used COVID-19 relief funds to pay essential workers.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) and American Rescue Plan (ARPA) Acts allowed states and local governments to use COVID-19 relief funds to provide premium pay to essential workers. Many states took advantage of this opportunity, giving stipends or hourly rate increases to government and other frontline employees who worked during the pandemic, such as healthcare workers, teachers, correctional officers, and police officers.

States’ initial focus was to get the money to the essential workers as quickly as possible, but these decisions may cause them to be out of compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which sets standards for minimum wage, overtime pay, and recordkeeping. As a result, states should review how the funds were disbursed and if payroll adjustments are necessary. The amount, form, and recipients of the pay varied widely from state to state, making determining whether states are compliant with FLSA and calculating any discrepancies an immensely complex task. 

For example, states that disbursed one-time payments to essential workers will likely be able to treat those payments like standard one-time bonuses, while recurring stipends or hourly rate increases should be included in employee’s regular rate when calculating overtime pay. Because this is an unprecedented situation for both states and the federal government, clear guidance is not yet available from the Department of Labor. 

Fortunately, BerryDunn is already working with clients to review their use of the COVID-19 relief funds to help ensure essential workers were paid fairly. Our team is qualified to guide you through your unique situation and help you remain in compliance with FLSA guidelines.

If you have questions about your particular circumstances, please call our Compliance and Risk Management consulting team. We are here to help and happy to discuss options to pay for these services using federal funds.

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Was your COVID-19 essential worker hazard pay FLSA-compliant?