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Continuity of care a focus in IMCare and Lakeview Behavioral Health dispute

IMCare is administered by Itasca County.
Itasca County
IMCare is administered by Itasca County.

As IMCare, Itasca County's sole carrier of public health insurance, plans to terminate its in-network contract with Lakeview Behavioral Health, many share concerns about continuity of care for patients.

GRAND RAPIDS — In the weeks following the announcement that Itasca County’s public health insurance carrier will drop Grand Rapids-based Lakeview Behavioral Health as an in-network provider, many are concerned about continuity of care for the estimated 700 patients that will be affected. 

Itasca County Commissioner Terry Snyder said this continuity is a top concern for himself and his fellow commissioners.  

“It's important to make sure that they're not left in the cold, that there are some options given to these individuals so that they can continue the services they're receiving from Lakeview,” Snyder said.

Lakeview Behavioral Health was established in 2017, and Clinical Director Zack Kahmeyer said Lakeview offers a number of niche services, including medication assisted therapy and treatment-resistant depression. 

Zack Kahmeyer is the executive clinical director at Lakeview Behavioral Health.
Zack Kahmeyer is the executive clinical director at Lakeview Behavioral Health.

"Many of these members have been receiving services from Lakeview Behavioral Health for years and years,” Kahmeyer said. “They have established relationships with their therapists, their prescribers and their substance use disorder providers." 

IMCare, Itasca County’s sole provider of Medicaid and Minnesota Care among other programs, is in a unique position. Most counties in Minnesota have two or more options for providing these public insurance programs to eligible residents, but IMCare is the only option for Itasca County residents. 

“We are working hard to ensure that there are no gaps in care for enrollees,” wrote IMCare Director Sarah Anderson in an email. “There are many other mental healthcare providers in the County, and we are working to get enrollees all the information they need to select new providers. IMCare has a plan in place to make sure enrollees have continuity of care.”

Plus mediation for Essentia Health and the city of Fosston over a pause in obstetric care, a robust wild rice season in Northern Minnesota, and a land transfer from the city of Minneapolis to the Red Lake Nation.

The sheer number of impacted enrollees, according to Kahmeyer, will put a strain on other mental health and substance use providers.  

"We've talked with several different care providers in Itasca County,” said Kahmeyer, noting his conversations were with providers within reasonable driving distance. “What we're hearing is that those organizations don't really have the ability to absorb 700-plus IMCare members into their services.” 

Rural mental health access is a major priority for both federal and state lawmakers, yet waitlists to be seen by a psychiatrist or a therapist remain long. 

“There's always more need than there are providers, there's no doubt,” Commissioner Snyder said. “What other options are out there for these individuals that we can provide between now and the end of the year?”  

The contract termination will be in effect at the end-of-day Dec. 29, and according to Snyder, the contract was terminated due to contract violations. 

“I have to be very careful because it's a legal issue and it is being handled by their attorney and the attorney that represents Itasca County,” Snyder said. 

Lakeview Behavioral Health’s Kahmeyer said Lakeview is open to discussions but has not heard anything since the notice of contract termination. 

“If it was terminated due to contract violations, I believe they would have notified us in that termination letter," Kahmeyer said. "There was no conversation about contract violations, no communication since then on the topic, but we'd be happy to discuss those concerns while engaged in conversation with them.” 

Lakeview Behavioral Health encourages IMCare enrollees to contact Itasca County commissioners, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office and the Mental Health Ombudsman to share their stories. 

“We want them to make sure their voices are heard in this,” Kaymeyer said. “It's not just a matter of a simple contract dispute. It's people's lives, it's their well-being — their mental well-being — that's ultimately at stake here.” 

Larissa Donovan has been in the Bemidji area's local news scene since 2016, joining the KAXE newsroom in 2023 after several years as the News Director for the stations of Paul Bunyan Broadcasting.