Editorial Moscow Ballet Marries Art With A Serious Message

People don’t often connect behavioral health services with ballet. But for Providence Behavioral Hospital, a partnership with the Moscow Ballet is music to the ears — and much-needed money in the coffers.
It’s also an indication of how providers of mental health services have had to become more creative in an era of tight budgets that are only growing tighter.

Consider for a moment that Medicaid reimburses behavioral health services at an average of 25{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} below the cost of care — and that negative variance jumps to 39{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} in the acute-care setting, according to the most recent figures available from the Mass. Behavioral Health Partnership (MBHP). Then consider that those figures are from 2001, and the situation has only gotten worse under the state’s recent budget cuts.

“The budget has really hit us hard,” said Robert Simpson, COO of Behavioral Health Care for the Sisters of Providence Health System, which oversees Providence Behavioral Hospital. “In three years, there have been no rate increases for the behavioral services that are being provided in hospitals or outpatient settings, and at the same time, in this latest budget, the state made a 2{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} to 3.5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} across-the-board rate cut for all hospitals.”

Matt Haas, director of outpatient and crisis services at Holyoke Hospital’s Partial Hospitalization Program, said patients and providers feel the strain equally.

“We’ve noticed more people in our emergency room who are coming in looking for detox beds that aren’t available in the community,” Haas said. “At times, due to the lack of resources in the substance abuse treatment area, people will come in and present as suicidal in the ER in order to find a safe place to stay where they can be detoxed.”

But as tough as times are for adult behavioral health and substance abuse treatment programs, it can be even more wrenching for those who work with children. Only 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of the children who need mental health services actually get them, Simpson said.

That’s where the Moscow Ballet comes in, bringing two performances of the Great Russian Nutcracker to the UMass Fine Arts Center in Amherst in December to raise money for services for children at Providence (see story, page 21). Last year’s single benefit performance raised $30,000 — used primarily for staff-training efforts — after which time the hospital and the ballet company decided to forge a lasting partnership.

Simpson doesn’t think for a moment that $30,000 — or even double that, if next month’s two performances do equally well — is in itself a culture-changing amount of money for a hospital like Providence, which serves children from 142 communities across the Commonwealth. After all, Providence provides some 8,000 inpatient bed days per year, in addition to 6,000 residential bed days; there’s no facility like it in Massachusetts east of the Boston area.

Of course, the money will be used to continue needed services and help broaden the range of patients the hospital can serve. But of even more importance is the awareness that the performances will raise about the plight of behavioral health services, especially for the most vulnerable population — children.

Certainly, it’s an issue dear to Moscow Ballet producer Akiva Talmi, whose son has been treated at Providence; in fact, the December shows in Amherst are the only benefit performances on the ballet’s current, 75-city tour.

The Healthcare News applauds the ballet’s commitment to shining a spotlight on the needs of children’s mental health services, and we encourage attendance at the shows. But we also recognize, like Simpson does, that this is only one part of an ongoing campaign that must include the people who can really make a difference — the lawmakers in Boston who mold the state’s all-important health services budget.

They’ve already heard the cries from behavioral health, plenty of times. If the members of the Moscow Ballet can push the issue a few more graceful steps forward in the public consciousness, perhaps real improvements may yet result.