The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities had awarded California-based Anka Behavioral Health with contracts to run eight of 20 programs meant to get patients institutionalized in hospitals into community settings. It’s a key part of a five-year agreement that Georgia reached with federal officials to improve its mental health care system. So far, the state has spent $13 million on the effort.
Audit reports obtained by the newspaper faulted Anka teams for record-keeping problems, improper billing, poorly trained staff and for letting too many patients wind up incarcerated or hospitalized. State officials are now removing Anka and awarding no-bid contracts to local nonprofit mental health organizations.
“We’ve lost valuable time in Georgia,” said Frank Bonati, chief of Gateway Behavioral Health in southeast Georgia. His organization was among the higher-ranking in the audit. “We spent a year when we could have been providing care to critically mentally ill persons and now have to go back to jump street. You have lost a year of experience.”
Anka company officials said the firm is being unfairly penalized and noted that some of its teams ranked high in important areas, such as treatment and keeping clients out of hospitals and jails. Nzinga Harrison, who oversees Anka programs in Georgia, said the company has corrected most of the problems identified in the February audit.
The company received the bulk of state contracts because it had the best proposals for developing teams combining psychiatrists, nurses and caseworkers to treat patients, said Tom Wilson, a spokesman for the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities.
In one case, state officials are awarding Anka’s contract in Cobb County to the Cobb-Douglas Community Services Board, which provides mental health services at a jail. Tod Citron, who heads the Cobb-Douglas CSB, said Anka suffered from high staff turnover and few relationships with local agencies.
“I knew an out-of-state vendor from California was going to have real challenges at making it work with no track record and no footprint in the state,” he said.