Q&A: Sen. Denyc Boles talks mental health, behavioral health clinics

Sen. Denyc Boles (R-District 10) talked to State of Reform Tuesday evening about the legislature’s efforts to prioritize mental health care this year. Health has emerged as a priority for Boles, who took a stance last year on medical freedoms and has advocated for Salem Hospital in the past.

Sen. Boles is a member of the Senate Mental Health Committee, which held a public hearing on Senate Bill 1552 recently.  This bill directs the Oregon Health Care Authority to evaluate certified behavioral health centers in an effort to advance mental health care in Oregon. With the success of these behavioral health centers in various communities in Oregon, there’s some talk of expanding that model. Sen. Boles discussed that model further with us Tuesday evening. 


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Madeline Shannon: What was the catalyst for the broader conversation surrounding community-based behavioral health centers?

Sen. Denyc Boles: It was a program that was not funded appropriately last session because the federal government didn’t give anything for the program. We’re trying to draw down federal funding in order to fund…the community-based care systems, which a lot of times, have been successful in our state. 

MS: Is this bill one step in a larger effort to reform the mental health care system statewide?

DB: This is the first session where we actually have a committee on mental health both in the Senate and in the House. We’re really looking at the system of care, and we’re still in the early stages of looking at what’s working, what isn’t working and how we’re delivering services to people in our community. Mental health is a problem in our state, and it’s a complicated problem. Sen. Roblan and I spent a lot of time in the eastern part of the state, and we were really looking at our community-funded behavioral health clinics. It was really remarkable, some of the successes that they’re having. It makes sense to continue the financial support to these health clinics so they can continue to do the work they’re doing. Also, anecdotally and empirically, it looks like this is a good model to consider. We’re working really hard to address some of these issues in our state. 

MS: What needs to happen next to get the state’s mental health care system to where it needs to be?

DB: We’re still gathering that information. I’m still new to this broader conversation. I know the governor’s made this a priority and it’s a priority of the legislature, as well. We’re making some steps, but you’ve got to make sure they’re the right steps. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.