Lynn Canal Counseling Services officials said anticipated funding cuts are behind its decision to turn over its operation to Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, but the change also will provide more services to its clients.

The transition is expected to be complete by Oct. 1.

The two agencies have offered parallel but not identical programs here for decades. Lynn Canal Counseling, a local non-profit, has provided behavioral health services here since 1984, and with about 100 clients, sees the bulk of local patients.

Kelly Williamson, executive director for LCCS, will become behavioral health case manager for SEARHC. The majority of the organization’s other six part-time positions will remain under new management, Williamson said.

Funds held by LCCS will be turned over to SEARHC under the merger.

SEARHC, a regional tribal health provider that operates the Hanes medical clinci, is taking over funding and management of local counseling services, but Williamson will lead the local program, which will keep the Lynn Canal Counseling Services title. “We don’t see anything changing in the day-to-day operation of the organization. There will be the same faces, the same names and the same treatment,” Williamson said.

Williamson said LCCS heard about six months ago that a state grant amounting to $275,000 annually would be “significantly reduced” in 2017. Other concerns include a freeze in Medicaid reimbursement to health care providers statewide that will come Oct. 1 and a possible $20 million reduction in state funding of Medicaid.

Lynn Canal Counseling has a $750,000 annual budget. Other sources of its income include Medicaid and Veterans Administration billing, private insurance, and a $30,000 grant from the Haines Borough.

“We took it as a warning that things were going to change and that we needed to think wisely about the impact on services to the community and we started talking with Juneau Alliance for the Mentally Ill, Bartlett (Regional Hospital), and SEARHC. SEARHC is already here, so that was a natural option,” Williamson said. “The question for the board was, ‘How do we make our services sustainable?’”

Williamson said services that Lynn Canal Counseling was not able to provide but will be available under SEARHC include tele-behavioral health services, inpatient psychiatric services, psychological testing and access to SEARHC’s adolescent residential substance abuse treatment program, “Raven’s Way.”

LCCS lost its psychiatrist in March when Bartlett hospital ended its itinerant service. Since then, the agency has partnered to provide psychiatric service via SEARHC’s tele-medicine equipment. “We’re already working closely with SEARHC.”

Williamson said she expects some clients may be apprehensive about the change in management. “There will always be a few people who will react on face value to that, but nothing will change as far as the clients are concerned. I think we’ll be able to demonstrate that as the transition is made.”

Dan Neumeister, SEARHC’s chief operating officer, said his organization benefits from the merger by being able to provide LCCS services that SEARHC hasn’t, including family therapy and children’s services. The merger should create savings by consolidating administrative duties and because SEARHC gets a favorable reimbursement rate from the federal government, he said.

Neumeister said that he expects total funding for counseling, as previously provided by Lynn Canal Counseling, to at least remain the same. He said the local agency has a “great legacy” for serving the community and is at the forefront for community-based counseling services.

Lynn Canal Counseling board president Jansy Hansen said the board voted unanimously to merge with SEARHC about 10 days ago. In a press release, she said, “As a board, our responsibility is to the communities we serve. We are fully convinced that joining hands with SEARHC is a great opportunity for Lynn Canal to continue providing the level of behavioral health services our communities deserve today as well as in the future.”

An advisory committee composed of Lynn Canal board members and staff from both organizations will be established to help with the transition.

SEARHC will assume LCCS’ current lease of the Ellingen Building in Haines. The agency recently signed a three-year lease there and plans on remaining there, Williamson said.