Easter Seals UCP aims to keep growing

Connie Cochran
Connie Cochran

Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In a program Raleigh-based Easter Seals UCP North Carolina & Virginia is piloting in Rocky Mount and Mount Airy, nurse practitioners at its local mental-health clinics assess patients to identify their needs, and then link them with primary-care doctors the patients can develop a relationship with over time.

The goal of the pilot program, funded over three years with a $300,000 grant from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, is to produce better outcomes than in the past and help the agency sustain the program financially over time at lower costs than the traditional practice of simply referring patients to primary-care doctors, a practice that typically limited success because patients often do not show up at the doctor’s office.

That goal reflects the overall strategy at Easter Seals UCP in the face of rising health-care costs and a shifting business model for delivering services in the areas of mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse, says Connie Cochran, the agency’s president and CEO.

“We’re trying to minimize the amount of money we spend on administrative costs and maximize what we do on impacting services,” he says.

Easter Seals UCP was formed in 2004 through the merger of Easter Seals and UCP, or United Cerebral Palsy.

The merger reflected a strategic decision the two agencies made in the face of efforts to reform the state’s mental-health system by moving from direct delivery of services by government to its management of services provided by private contractors.

At the time of the merger, Easter Seals, which was established in North Carolina in 1945, had stronger fundraising and cause-related marketing programs than UCP, which opened in the state in 1951 and at the time of the merger was more effective at developing new programs and services than Easter Seals but had not been able to adequately replace its own old telethon fundraising model, says Cochran, who had been executive director of UCP.

Today, after a series of subsequent mergers with smaller organizations, Easter Seals UCP serves 20,000 people in North Carolina and Virginia and operates with an annual budget of $85.6 million and a staff of 1,100 people working full-time and 1,500 working part-time or under contract.

The agency partners with community-based organizations to help individuals with disabilities or mental-health problems, or both, function on a daily basis.

With most of its clients living in their own homes or apartments, or with their families, services that Easter Seals UCP provides include early intervention and education, community and family support, supported employment and supported living.

Cochran says he expects more consolidation as the state’s mental-health system continues to shift to managed-care.

The roughly 30 or more “area authorities” throughout the state that had provided services directly have been replaced with about 20 “local management entities” that are expected to be consolidated to 10 to 12 by 2013,

Those local management entities will be “looking for more comprehensive providers who can eventually take on greater risk by agreeing to work with certain target populations,” Cochran says.

That will require that providers like Easter Seals UCP have “more robust information-management systems that provide real-time data to know where you’re spending money to get the best outcomes,” he says.

To pay for developing innovative new programs to do that, Easter Seals UCP plans over the next three years to increase to $7 million from $5 million the funds it raises each year through cause-related marketing and gifts of $25,000 or more.

The agency, for example, receives $2.2 million a year through Shop and Care, a cause-related partnership it has had with Food Lion for 20 years.

“What we’re trying to do,” Cochran says, “is use our money for more innovation for things that truly make a long-term impact.”

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