Hamilton-based nonprofits to consider merger

Mental health, addiction agencies already have partnership, overlap in clients served.

Sojourner Recovery Services board members

Dominic Franchini, chairman

Benjamin J. Fisher, vice chairman

Chris Schubart, treasurer

Matthew Smith, secretary

Scott Gibbons

Carol Hauser

Jean Hutson

Michael Jodrey

Greg Ossmann

Transitional Living, Inc. board members

Gregory D. Bailes, president

Steven M. Isgro, vice president

Jeff Blair, treasurer

Vanessa Silva, secretary

Damon Halverson

Anthony Ng

Kenneth John Crehan

Tom Mays

Rhonda L. Freeze

William G. Campbell

Joseph Schutte

here for a map of Sojourner’s eight locations and Transitional Living’s two locations.

Two powerhouses in mental health and addiction services in Butler County are considering a merger.

The nonprofits Transitional Living, Inc., offering mental health treatment for 37 years, and Sojourner Recovery Services, a substance abuse treatment provider for 32 years, entered talks for a potential merger about two months ago.

The merger would allow the agencies to serve a greater number of clients and would likely add jobs and present several cost-saving measures.

Scott Gehring, president and chief executive officer at Sojourner, said many clients at both nonprofits have co-occurring mental health and addiction needs. He said about 10 percent to 15 percent of the client population is served by both agencies.

But both CEOs say a much higher percentage of their clients need both services. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports between 30 percent and 50 percent of those with a mental illness also have a co-occurring substance abuse issue.

“It just seems like a gap in service; it makes sense to be able to work with another agency to fill that gap,” Gehring said.

He added that the biggest hurdle for someone in treatment is maintaining a cohesive program when multiple providers are involved.

“Where you most often lose the client in treatment is when you’re referring out, when you’re sending them somewhere else, when you’re telling them to go see this person or that person,” Gehring said.

The two nonprofits have already been partnering for the past two years to offer clients a spectrum of services, said Kathy Becker, chief executive officer at Transitional Living.

For example, Sojourner staff will lead counseling groups at Transitional Living for the clients there that need more intense addiction services. Gehring said the same happens for Sojourner clients with a higher degree of mental illness.

“So instead of recreating the wheel and just adding more services, why not go to who we consider to be the experts?” Becker said.

Becker said Sojourner has also helped Transitional Living in the past by providing a temporary nurse at a low cost and assistance with information technology needs. She said also within Butler County’s mental health court in Fairfield, Sojourner now has a representative there to streamline assessments for any substance abuse treatment.

“Over the last few years we’ve really partnered on a multitude of levels,” Gehring said.

In late June, the two CEOs alerted their staffs of the potential merger. Transitional Living has 86 employees, while Sojourner has 105 workers.

“I think one of my staff yelled out when I was making the announcement, ‘It’s about time,’” Gehring said.

The next step, Becker said will be hiring a consultant knowledgeable in mergers to outline the steps and timeline to make it happen.

Becker said if a merger were to happen the agencies would be able to serve a greater number of clients and would likely add jobs. There would also be a cost savings by having in-house training and bulk purchasing and supply ordering.

“The nice thing about this is it’s truly an equitable merger conversation as both agencies are financially stable and strong, both agencies are growing, staffs are well trained,” Gehring said. “This is really something we’re looking at to benefit clients.”

Both nonprofits are headquartered in Hamilton and have annual operating budgets of over $5 million. On a yearly basis, Transitional Living has contact with about 3,000 people through outreach and services. Sojourner serves about 2,000 people a year.

Butler County’s mental health and alcohol and addiction services boards also merged at the beginning of the month. The new Butler County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Services Board, led by executive director Scott Rasmus, serves a combined 14,000 clients.

“Already just the conversations are more integrated and looking at things from a dual-diagnosis point of view,” Rasmus said, adding it took over 10 committee meetings before the merger was complete. “I see the benefit of combined or collaborative efforts in these areas.”

The state merged its mental health and addiction services in July 2013, and now every county in the state has followed suit, with the exception of Lorain County, which maintains separate boards, according to Eric R. Wandersleben, spokesman for the state agency.

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