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Health group to slash jobs

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One of the Augusta area's largest mental health care providers must slash its work force more than 12 percent in the next two months to stay open, its CEO announced Friday.

Serenity Behavioral Health Systems will downsize during the next year while it grapples with cuts in state contracts and Medicaid billing problems that have debilitated its cash flow, said Chuck Williamson, the chief executive of the mental health center that has more than 7,000 clients in a seven-county area.

"Financially, we are at a crossroads. If we do not make significant cuts in very short order, we will go out of business," he wrote in an e-mail. "If we were to continue as is and make no changes, we will run out of operating funds by summer, and miss payroll by September."

At the end of January, it appeared the center's substance abuse program might be the only program to see cuts brought on by billing delays in Medicaid that Mr. Williamson said have put the center $2.5 million behind in collections.

But he said Friday that the center would have to lay off 40 to 50 employees to stay open next year.

The job cuts will be spread across programs Serenity offers for adults, adolescents, mentally disabled patients and in its two clinics in Wilkes County and Thomson.

"We don't want to cripple any particular program, so we're going to try our very best to make sure it comes from a cross-section," he said.

The center also is eliminating its transportation department, which serves 76 clients.

The Medicaid problem is not isolated to Serenity. Mr. Williamson said other community service boards across the state are up against a similar crisis and are cutting jobs.

Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or justin.boron@augustachronicle.com.


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