Who are we, anyway? 

Its reach and responsibilities often in question, Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group seeks counseling

Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group might not be having a nervous breakdown, but it's definitely in the midst of an identity crisis. The agency wants to pay up to $100,000 to "rebrand" its growing empire, which includes an apartment complex, construction company and catering business, as well as the traditional mental health services.

This is the agency that bagged its longstanding community detox program for alcoholics and drug abusers earlier this year, partly because it was a cash drain. The move temporarily threw hospital emergency rooms into further chaos, as cops had no other place to take intoxicated people.

PPBHG will pay Tungsten Branding, of Brevard, N.C., $36,000 for branding advice. It expects to spend at least another $60,000 promoting whatever new name and logo is adopted, printing stationery and brochures and making signs, much to the chagrin of a handful of board members, though they can't say so publicly.

Into the labyrinth

Agency officials say clients are confused about accessing the nonprofit's array of services. And who can blame them?

Once known simply as Pikes Peak Mental Health, PPBHG has branched out to include job training, contract management and education. The agency's name for IRS purposes is Pikes Peak Integrated Solutions Inc., a moniker foreign to local residents.

According to IRS filings, the agency saw revenue increase by 10 percent from 2005 to 2007, to $43 million. PPBHG runs 10 nonprofit subsidiaries, including an outfit called Connect Care that among other mental health care administrative services, manages state substance-abuse funds through a network of 100 providers and oversees disease, depression and child welfare core services for the El Paso County Department of Human Services.

"The board recognized it's very confusing to the community," says Morris Roth, Pikes Peak Behavioral Health Group's CEO. "We are Aspen Diversified Industries, Connect Care, Workout Limited. It becomes difficult for the general public to figure out how to enter our system."

For the record, Aspen Diversified Industries provides adults with disabilities with vocational training and rehab services; Workout Limited is a restitution program for young criminals.

Joe Michaels, PPBHG vice president for marketing and communications, says Tungsten was hired to help rebrand the agency after "anecdotal evidence" and a survey of a small sample of clients indicated PPBHG's identity problem.

"The community recognized Pikes Peak Mental Health Center, but the other entities, they were not familiar," says Roth, who couldn't readily describe where and how all the agency's subsidiaries' numbers and services are advertised.

Indeed, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, who took over detox when no one else would, didn't know that roughly $820,000 a year in state money that funds that operation comes via PPBHG, which will monitor whether Maketa's detox facility lives up to state rules.

"If the sheriff's office isn't doing what they're supposed to be doing," PPBHG spokesman Kevin Porter says, "we can make sure they don't get that money."

Asked how he felt about Roth's conglomerate looking over his shoulder, Maketa said in an e-mail, "The agreement/contract I have signed is with Connect Care, who is the liaison with the state for our area. We report directly to [the] state [Division] of Behavioral Health. Nowhere is PPBHG mentioned in the agreement/contract."

No costs, new costs

Roth says PPBHG dumped detox in February because the community-based Detox Coordinating Council decided it needed more beds than the 20 PPBHG provided. Adding beds without extra funding would have meant shifting from the expensive "medical" treatment model to a "social" model, in which drunks basically sleep it off, he says, and that change would he jeopardize PPBHG's professional accreditation.

Besides, he says, the agency could no longer afford the $1.5 million annual loss.

In light of PPBHG's abandoning detox, the branding issue doesn't sit well with some board members. But they can't talk publicly because they signed a confidentiality agreement.

Roth argues that detox and branding are unrelated. He also defends the agency's expansion strategy: "We're committed not to just provide treatment, but also to provide jobs, training, educational experiences for people."

And when it comes at no cost, who can argue? Take Aspen Diversified Industries. "It solely exists on its contracts," Roth says. "It has to break even to exist."

Altamira Apartments, just off 21st Street near Bear Creek Park, owned by a PPBHG subsidiary, more than breaks even. The complex showed a profit of $326,000 in 2007 and $498,000 in 2008, money that was pumped into programs, PPBHG chief financial officer Kevin Light says.

On the other hand, PPBHG lost $61,000 last year in a new partnership in a for-profit construction firm.

The agency has done well enough in recent years to give a few hefty raises. IRS filings show one top staffer got a 39 percent bump; another, 16 percent. Those filings, though, are unreliable, considering PPBHG filed information in 2007 that showed Roth's compensation totaled $451,349 in 2006, when it actually came to $299,457, says Light.

The errors apparently went undetected until they were questioned recently. Light says future IRS reports will be scrutinized by an accounting team, himself and the board. He says the agency will file an amended IRS report soon.


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