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Alternatives and The Bridge merge

July 2018

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
July 2018
by Susan Spencer

Hoping to bring together complementary approaches to serving people with mental health and developmental disabilities, two well-established Central Massachusetts human service agencies announced Wednesday that they have affiliated as one organization as of July 1.

Whitinsville-based Alternatives Unlimited Inc. and The Bridge of Central Massachusetts, which has headquarters in Worcester, will together serve approximately 4,500 people, including 2,000 clients through a new MassHealth accountable care organization, with a combined workforce of 1,100 staff and a budget of $82 million, according to a news release.

The affiliated organization, which will be headquartered in Worcester, is temporarily being called Alternatives and The Bridge, but a new name will be rolled out in the fall.

Kenneth J. Bates, formerly president and CEO of The Bridge, has assumed the role of president and CEO of the new organization, while Alternatives Executive Director Dennis H. Rice will remain as a senior adviser during the transition. Mr. Rice will then work part-time managing community engagement and arts and culture initiatives at the renovated Whitin Mill complex in Whitinsville.

“The major reason we’re coming together is preparing for the future of human services and the way our work will be valued in the community,” Mr. Bates said in an interview at Alternatives’ Whitin Mill.

The Bridge, founded in Westboro in 1973, is known for providing clinical best-practice, evidence-based treatments and services to children, families and adults with a range of developmental and mental health challenges, autism, brain injury, substance use disorders and homelessness.

Alternatives, co-founded by Mr. Rice in 1976, serves adults with psychiatric or developmental disabilities. It has been in the forefront of connecting people its serves with the community and for promoting arts and culture as a means of bringing people and communities together.

Mr. Rice explained that the clinical best-practices approach helps individuals understand, manage and develop their skills so they are more ready to connect to the community. The cognitive-based therapy model staff use is focused on recovery. Meanwhile, the more connected people become with the community as part of rehabilitation, the less they need support services.

Mr. Bates said, “We have to be better prepared to demonstrate the value of what we do,” and that value will become more evident as people with disabilities are engaged in the community.

“If anything, donors will even feel better about what they give to the two organizations combined,” Mr. Rice said.

Mr. Rice said that the affiliation had been in discussion for more than two years. When talks began, Mr. Rice, then 70, gave his board of directors a two-year notice of his retirement. The organization was faced with planning the succession for a new executive director or explore affiliating with another agency.

Mr. Rice had known Mr. Bates, 53, from the several years Mr. Bates worked at The Advocates in Framingham, another human services organization for people with mental health, developmental and other challenges. In fact, Mr. Rice had hoped to hire Mr. Bates three years ago when Mr. Bates took the position at The Bridge, after serving as the executive director of new business and financial growth for Commonwealth Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Mr. Rice praised Mr. Bates’ strategic capabilities.

The affiliation brings together some 60 programs and 700 employees from Alternatives with 50 programs and 600 employees from The Bridge.

There have been no layoffs as a result of the merger, both leaders said, although some management positions have been reconfigured.

Both organizations receive a significant amount of their funding from the state Department of Mental Health and Department of Developmental Services. MassHealth/Medicaid and Medicare also provide substantial funding.

This month, both organizations began serving MassHealth accountable care organization members with complex medical needs through the Central Community Health Partnership. Other organizations in that partnership include AdCare, LUK Inc. and Venture Community Services. CCHP community partners offer both behavioral health and long-term services and supports.