A behavioral health agency that treats thousands of low-income Summit County residents is joining with Akron General Medical Center to share psychiatric leadership and develop programs.

Portage Path Behavioral Health has formed a partnership with Akron General for joint recruitment and employment of psychiatrists and other behavioral health experts.

Leaders from the two organizations said they also plan to work together to coordinate physical and mental health needs for patients, particularly as more people are expected to seek services after getting insurance coverage in the coming years through federal health-care reform.

Under the agreement, Dr. Jeffrey L. Moore, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Akron General, became the medical director of Portage Path this month. In his new role, Moore is responsible for overseeing medical operations for the community mental health center.

The two have strong ties, with Akron General helping secure a grant to start the community behavioral health program 43 years ago. Back then, Akron General's psychiatry chairman served as Portage Path's first medical director.

“The relationships with Akron General and Portage Path go back to the beginning,” Moore said.

Portage Path is contracting through Partners Physician Group, the physician practice arm of Akron General Health System, for Moore to serve in the medical leadership role.

Moore takes over for Dr. Antonio Montinola, who recently retired after years at the agency. Montinola was instrumental in helping Portage Path develop its 24-hour emergency psychiatric services in the 1980s, said Tim Morgan, the agency’s president.

Portage Path turned to Akron General to fill the leadership vacancy and help hire other psychiatrists because recruitment and retention of these highly sought specialists can be challenging, Morgan said.

“Part of our issue is we compete for medical personnel with very large systems,” he said. “Oftentimes, it’s very tough to do that kind of competition. But if we join forces, I think we can do a better job recruiting and retaining some top talent here in Summit County. We can offer different ways of practicing.”

The nonprofit business provides outpatient counseling and psychiatric services, medication management, group programs, partial hospitalization, psychiatric emergency care and a free, 24-hour crisis hotline.

The agency, with about 190 employees, has three outpatient facilities in downtown Akron, Barberton and Cuyahoga Falls and a 24-hour psychiatric emergency services center in Akron.

About $7.8 million of Portage Path’s $11.1 million annual budget comes from tax support through the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board.

Each year, Portage Path serves about 9,000 patients, with about 76 percent qualifying for sliding-scale payments for services.

Portage Path will work with Akron General — as well as other willing partners in the community — to develop programs that coordinate behavioral and physical health services for patients, Morgan said.

“In the future, what we’d like to do is to be able to co-locate some of these services,” Morgan said.

Studies have shown patients who are chronically mentally ill can have their life spans shortened as much as 25 to 30 years, Moore said.

“That’s primarily due to preventable or chronic diseases that aren't well managed because that population of patients just doesn't get good access to primary care,” he said.

Beacon Journal medical writer Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or chpowell@thebeaconjournal.com