Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Insurance in Tough Times

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Insurance in Tough Times

Article excerpt

During these challenging economic times, it's important for community mental health centers (CMHCs) to maintain robust liability insurance coverage and risk-management programs. So says Susan Buchwalter, PhD, chief executive of The Counseling Center of Wayne and Holmes Counties, Ohio, and the recently appointed chairwoman of the Mental Health Risk Retention Group (MHRRG), which is owned by its behavioral healthcare policyholders. She sees the current economic situation as causing some providers to make decisions that could increase their organizations' liability risk.

"For example, some providers have begun hiring paraprofessional staff to do what bachelor's-level staff used to do," explains Dr. Buchwalter. "These staff come to their jobs with less training and experience," potentially increasing an organization's liability exposure.

"In addition, funding constraints can result in delayed building repairs, which can contribute to increased safety risks," she adds, "and closures and service reductions can put providers at increased risk for allegations that they did not provide [clients] the appropriate interventions."

In addition, some providers may make the mistake of chasing the cheapest liability insurance premium they can find. "That can be one of the riskiest things a provider organization can do," Dr. Buchwalter says. "It is imperative for behavioral health organizations to have their professional liability insurance coverage with an organization that they trust and that understands their business."

These difficult economic times also make it critical that providers implement as much staff training and education as possible, and have a solid risk-management plan in place, notes Dr. Buchwalter, who is only the second chair in MHRRG's 21-year history. (Dr. Buchwalter succeeds Gil Aliber, former chief executive of Rutland Mental Health Services in Vermont.) She advises that such a plan include staff education on suicide assessment, preventing violence, proper medication management, and prohibiting sexual misconduct.

In fact, Dr. Buchwalter points out that staff sexual misconduct involving clients is the most frequent source of professional liability claims, followed by suicide.

"Sexual misconduct is something that is really under the control of the person who chooses to engage in that kind of behavior, so it's a type of liability where good staff education and staff training can really make a difference," she says. …

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