AUGUSTA (AP) – Computer problems causing delays and partial payments to Medicaid service providers must be fixed within a month, Gov. John Baldacci ordered Thursday.

The cash flow problem has affected doctors, dentists, foster parents, social workers and others who provide services to Maine’s poorest residents, many with mental health and other disabilities.

Commissioner John “Jack” Nicholas of the Department of Health and Human Services said providers waiting for money from the state would, within a week, receive interim payments until the glitch in the state’s billing system is resolved.

Baldacci said he expects DHHS to make “reliable and predictable” payments within 30 days to all 7,000 agency providers, not just 1,900 who have been designated as high-risk.

“The transition to a new computer system has proved difficult for everyone,” Baldacci said. “I’ve told the commissioner that he has 30 days to fix the problem. This has to be done. I’m taking action. People will be held accountable.”

DHHS must hire temporary staff to help the department respond to the volume of inquires from providers on claim status, Baldacci said. The department must also make staff changes so that computer systems function and operate properly.

“It’s important that we pay our bills promptly,” Baldacci said.

That was good news to Christopher Copeland, executive director of Tri-County Mental Health, which provides services to thousands of mentally ill and disabled people in Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.

“I’m pleased he’s taking firm action, because if this was going to continue it puts everybody at risk,” Copeland said. “Without predictable income, it’s very hard for us.”

Copeland said Tri-County, like other providers, has been receiving emergency payments, “but we don’t know what the payment is for.” Because of a new, federally mandated computer system that DHHS has had trouble with, providers are getting some payments, but they don’t know which service they’re for. “All that’s got to be put right,” Copeland said.

Copeland said he has spoken with others in the Maine Association of Mental Health Services on Thursday, “and the story’s the same everywhere.”

In meeting with Nicholas, Baldacci directed that DHHS provide him with weekly reports on claims payment status that provide clear and accurate details helpful to providers and legislators.

Staff writer Bonnie Washuk contributed to this report.

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