published Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Tennessee mental health centers merge

Fortwood Center Inc.

Started: 1946

Service area: Chattanooga

Facilities: Six

Consumers: Serves more than 2,000 adults and 1,000 children a year

Staff: 70 employees

CEO: Earl Medley

Helen Ross McNabb Center Inc.

Started: 1948

Service area: East Tennessee

Facilities: 27

Consumers: Serves more than 12,000 persons a year

Staff: 500 employees

CEO: Andy Black

Tennessee's oldest mental health center is being acquired by the state's second oldest provider of mental health services and the biggest such provider in East Tennessee.

Pending state approval, the 66-year-old Fortwood Center Inc. in Chattanooga will combine with the 64-year-old Helen Ross McNabb Center Inc. in Knoxville.

The new owners say they plan to keep the staff, facilities and patients of Fortwood. But under McNabb's ownership, Fortwood should gain a wider base for fundraising, training and services.

"We are similar in our service, organization and delivery," said Fortwood CEO Earl Medley, who is nearing retirement after heading the nonprofit mental health agency for a quarter century. "We also share the same mission which will allow a smooth transition for the more than 1,000 children and 2,000 adults served annually by Fortwood."

Fortwood, like many government-funded mental health agencies, has cut staff and programs in recent years in response to government and private funding cutbacks. Meanwhile, the Helen Ross McNabb Center has expanded from its Knoxville base and is currently in the process of acquiring both Fortwood in Chattanooga and the Youth Emergency Shelter Inc., in Morristown, Tenn.

In the past couple of years, Fortwood has lost much of its state and county funding due to the shifting of all state-funded crisis teams in Chattanooga to Volunteer Behavioral Health Care Systems, and because of county cuts due to sales tax changes.

Chattanooga Attorney Ross Schram, the chairman of the Fortwood Center, said the board began looking at a possible merger with the McNabb center six months ago to prepare for the eventual retirement of Medley and the need for broader financial support.

"A lot of our services are delivered to people in great need, but we don't have all the resources we could use," Schram said. "We visited the Helen Ross McNabb Center in Knoxville and we were very impressed with their approach and success. We feel very comfortable with their mission and financial stability."

Andy Black, president of the McNabb Center in Knoxville, said the new owners don't plan to cut staff or facilities at Fortwood and said there are "plans to add services that will enhance the continuum of care historically provided by Fortwood."

The McNabb Center serves nearly 12,000 children, adults and families a year from its 27 locations. Fortwood serves about 3,000 persons a year from its six facilities.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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