Magellan Health Services Inc. got the go-ahead Thursday to take over private management and coordination of behavioral health-care services for more than 150,000 Louisiana children and adults.

State Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce Greenstein announced the contract award to the Avon, Conn., company.

“This will begin a transformation of behavioral health in our state that will leap frog us from the back to higher in the (national) rankings” in care delivery and provide better access to needed services, Greenstein said.

Magellan won out over three other companies that submitted proposals seeking the state business.

The state budget appropriates $167.5 million for behavioral health programs for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The amount includes $12 million for transition and training related to the change-over from public to private management.

Magellan will become the single point of access 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for those in need of behavioral health services on March 1, 2012, said Kathy Kliebert, Department of Health and Hospitals deputy secretary.

The contract still needs approval from the state Division of Administration and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The specialty behavioral health manager serves more than 31.3 million members across the U.S. and Puerto Rico today. The company is ranked 700 on the Fortune 1,000 list.

The company becomes the “State Management Organization,” or SMO, seeing to the care needs of about 2,500 children and youth at-risk of jail or other institutional placement because of serious mental health issues, addictive disorders or both.

In addition, the SMO will oversee the needs of some 50,000 children and youth and another 100,000 adults with behavioral health issues.

Other companies vying for the contract were Value Options Louisiana, Cenpatico of Louisiana Inc. and Perform Care Behavioral Health Solutions.

The structure of the program is similar to one the state is using to shift the health-care needs of some 800,000 Medicaid recipients to private insurance companies or other entities. The companies enter into contracts with physicians, hospitals and other provider that would form coordinated care networks to manage the health-care needs of the poor.

In the case of the SMO, it will be responsible for developing networks of qualified behavioral health providers to offer a full array of services to those with mental and addictive disorder problems.

Magellan will be responsible for improving access, including providing 24-hour crisis response, utilization management to insure that services are not being duplicated, and that those enrolled are getting the services that suit their situations, Kliebert said.