The Investigators

Jul 16, 2013 12:46 AM by Tom McNamara

AHCCCS delayed for rural patients

TUCSON - Here's a follow-up to a story the News 4 Tucson Investigators uncovered earlier this year. It's about the way some people who need mental health care were being re-routed, sometimes hundreds of miles out of the way, all at taxpayer expense.

When the State of Arizona changed where, and how patients get that mental health care, some patients were sent to different caregivers based on something called a RBHA, which is bureaucrat-speak for Regional Behavioral Health Authority.

One of those patients, Russell Valenzuela of Arivaca Junction, near Green Valley, fought for change for nearly two years, with no results.

So, he came to us for help.

Valenzuela recently contacted the News 4 Tucson Investigators, to say following our report earlier this year, things have gotten better.

When we first spoke with Valenzuela earlier this year he told us he was frustrated with the way things were.

"I'm constantly on the road going to Tucson to see a counselor from Sierra Vista. It doesn't make sense."

Before the change, he used to go to Green Valley, just eight miles and ten minutes up the road for all his care in one trip.

Where he gets his care was determined by county line. But after the change, it was based on his zip code. Arivaca Junction is in Pima County, a few yards north of the county line. But folks get their mail at a substation of the Tumacacori Post Office, which comes back with a Santa Cruz county Zip code. Because of that, clients like Valenzuela were switched to Cenpatico, the RHBA for much of Southeast Arizona. The problem is that those providers are much farther away. For Valenzuela, that meant a ride was sent from Benson to pick him up at home. He then rode to Tucson and back, a 200-plus mile drive. That's a driver and a lot of gas for what used to be a 16-mile round trip.

But after our News 4 Tucson Investigators report, Valenzuela is once again able to get services in Green Valley like he used to.

"We don't have to travel so far. I mean, we're not traveling to Willcox or Benson, or Sierra Vista or Safford. We're going only six miles away, and it's nicer," Valenzuela says.

Valenzuela says before he contacted the News 4 Tucson Investigators a few months ago, the situation was much worse.

"It was miserable. But now, we can go to Green Valley, and come home. We're home by noon or 1:00 p.m., and it's nice. We're not on the road all day," Valenzuela says.

Valenzuela adds, without our News 4 Tucson investigation, things would not have changed.

"Nothing would have happened. The State would have never looked into it," Valenzuela says.

The change has meant more to Valenzuela than just fewer miles on the road.

"I get to volunteer more. And, I'm in Tucson a lot, so I'm really happy about that. And, I'm not stressed out like I was," Valenzuela says.

Valenzula tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, he'd like to thank the staff of COPE for their help.

And COPE's CEO also says he's delighted things are working out for Russell and other clients.

If there is something you need help with contact the Investigators with an email to investigators@kvoa.com

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