Behavioral health bill heard in Senate Committee on Mental Health

The Senate Committee on Mental Health met today to discuss a bill introduced this session, Senate Bill 1552. The bill would require the Oregon Health Authority to conduct an evaluation on certified community behavioral health clinics. 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

Specifically, the bill requires the OHA to evaluate whether community behavioral health clinics actually increase access to behavioral health treatment, whether access to the services provided by these clinics is effective and lowers health care costs for patients and whether the community behavioral health care model should be expanded, among other provisions of the bill. 

Those who testified in favor of the bill said the increased focus on community behavioral health over the last few years helps the most vulnerable people in the communities these clinics serve. Continued focus on these clinics would help behavioral health providers to expand services and continue serving their communities, they said. 

“For us, what it’s meant is we were able to go from a dwindling budget every year to being able to add upwards of 20 staff and increase the focus of our services on our most at-risk individuals,” said Janice Garceau, deputy director of Deschutes County Behavioral Health. “These are people with serious mental illness, our veterans who could not be served fully at the VA, children with serious emotional disturbance and older adults.”

The results of increased behavioral health services in Deschutes County, Garceau added, allowed the county to increase services to veterans by 107 percent, reduce emergency department visits by 31 percent and provide treatment to those with opioid addiction. These efforts have not just reduced suffering in the community but have also reduced costs, she said.

“As you can see, it is important to us that this effort continues,” Garceau testified. 

The OHA evaluation would also include how much behavioral health care services costs in these facilities, as well as risk-sharing agreements between these clinics and the county and state governments. The evaluation would be presented in a report to the state legislature on Dec. 1 of this year. The program would sunset in June 2021 or if federal funding for the program stops, whichever comes first. 

Behavioral health in Oregon has been the subject of scrutiny for years. Between 2010 and 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated Oregon’s mental health system, finding the state needed to reform the healthcare system to better serve people with serious and persistent mental illness. In a response to the DOJ report, the State of Oregon developed the Oregon Performance Plan, which was meant to address increasing mental health services for adults with mental illness. The state also formed the Behavioral Health Collaborative to identify integration strategies that would expand behavioral and physical health services.

In the last few years, state officials have approached how to provide services to those with mental illness who land in the criminal justice system. Efforts have ranged from developing policies that support local governments in tackling the issue in their communities to funding certified community behavioral health clinics through federal grants.