Compass Health to merge with Whatcom psychiatric clinic

BELLINGHAM — Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic has signed a letter of intent to merge with Compass Health, a larger provider of mental health and chemical dependency services based in Everett.

The deal is expected to close June 30, if all goes well during the due diligence process.

Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic’s roughly 120 full- and part-time employees likely will become employees of Compass Health.

“They felt they could be more effective for Whatcom County if they were part of a larger organization,” Dean Wight, interim executive director for Whatcom Counseling, said of the board of directors’ decision.

Whatcom’s board approached Compass about merging the two organizations, citing federal health care reform and Washington state legislative demands to integrate mental and physical health, along with chemical dependency treatment.

Both represent “historic changes in the way health care is provided,” Dave Kleiber, board president for Whatcom Counseling, said in a news release.

“We believe WCPC’s capacity to serve people with mental illnesses and addictions will be enhanced by bringing the strengths and resources of both organizations together,” he said.

Being part of a larger organization also will provide greater ability to leverage financing for things such as facility improvements, Wight said.

Staffing levels also are part of the discussion.

“My suspicion is that in the short term at least there will be no reduction in force,” Wight said. “The fact is, demand for behavioral health services is growing because of the expansion in Medicaid.”

Washington state expanded Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act, or national health care reform.

Part of the challenge will be to recruit employees to meet the growing demand, Wight said.

As a condition of the merger, the Whatcom Counseling board wanted some of its members to be added to the board of Compass Health, and at least one of Whatcom’s key staff members to be on the leadership team of Compass Health, according to Wight.

“The important thing is the board wants there to be an adequate voice for Whatcom County’s needs in the new organization,” he said.

Founded in 1957, Whatcom Counseling and Psychiatric Clinic provides mental health and addiction services.

Compass Health provides mental health and chemical dependency services in Island, San Juan, Skagit and Snohomish counties.

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