Southwest Florida Addiction Services (SWFAS) and Lee Mental Health, after a year of negotiations, announced a merger this week, forming the largest mental health and substance abuse treatment agency in Southwest Florida.
The merger, which was effective Monday, will combine the resources of the two non-profit agencies under the new name SalusCare Inc.
SalusCare will be led by CEO Kevin B. Lewis with Lee Mental Health Center President & CEO David Winters serving as chief administrative officer.
Lewis said that by combining two companies into one entity, it means universal paperwork and other services for those who are getting or could receive both drug and mental treatment.
"Often when there are those who receive both services, there is a duplication of assessments, recordkeeping, etc" Lewis said. "It was a barrier, and this will allow us to develop a common record."
Such a consolidation will not be overnight, Lewis said. That will take six months to a year to finish.
Lewis said that experiencing depression or a drug addiction is not unlike someone with traditional medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, for example.
"These conditions coexist and we've developed a system in our community, but they were parallel systems," Lewis said. "By consolidation, we can make access of care more likely."
There will be no disruption of services, Winters said in a statement. Patients who are accustomed to visiting the SWFAS Evans Avenue location will continue to receive services at that site, while patients of Lee Mental Health will continue to receive services at the Ortiz Avenue.
Its corporate office will be at 3763 Evans Ave. in Fort Myers.
Together, Lee Mental Health Center and SWFAS operate with annual budgets of just under $30 million and 450 employees serving 17,000 patients per year from seven locations in Lee County and one in Hendry County.
While cost savings is likely in the consolidation, Lewis and Winters said no layoffs or closing of offices are anticipated.
In fact, Lewsi said he would reinvest in care, if anything else.
"We recognize our community is underserved, so we won't be closing locations, nor will we lay off workers," Lewis said. "When our chief financial officer retired, we didn't replace him because we knew we could do that by employing a different strategy."
The merger brings the history of the two organizations full circle. Lee Mental Health was chartered in 1969. SWFAS traces its roots to 1972 when it was part of Lee Mental Health Center.
Approximately one in four individuals have or will have a mental health disorder at some time during their lives; the incidence of substance use affects one in eight individuals. Florida currently is 49th in the nation in per capita funding for mental health services.
The name "Salus" draws on the Latin roots of meaning health, prosperity and safety, which reflects the focus of the new organization.
For more information, call 332-6937 or visit its Website at www.SalusCareFlorida.org.