Task force discusses behavioral health recommendations for the governor

During a Behavioral Health Recovery System Transformation Task Force meeting on Friday morning, group members discussed the series of behavioral health recommendations they will submit to the governor’s office ahead of the next legislative session. The recommendations were developed during previous task force meetings dating back to September 2019.


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The list of recommendations up for consideration falls into three buckets: systems infrastructure, workforce, and physical infrastructure.

Under the systems infrastructure section, the task force began with a conversation on five recommendations related to agency collaboration and improving state oversight of the behavioral health system. The recommendations would:

  • Require state hospitals to submit comprehensive budgets that eliminate chronic overspend.
  • Encourage the governor to appoint a director responsible for coordinating behavioral health system changes among state agencies and educational institutions.
  • Require the state to provide “rigorous oversight” of the managed care model for delivering behavioral health services.

The committee also discussed a recommendation that would require the state to establish a behavioral health bed tracking system to determine the real-time availability of secure detox and civil commitment beds for 14-,90-, and 180-day placements.

“It’s very similar to what we had put in the budget last year that unfortunately got vetoed because of the financial problems,” said Rep. Eileen Cody. “But definitely it’s something that we need to get developed because as we try and move people out of Western State, for sure, we need a better tracking system of what beds we’re using and what are available. So, I see that as a priority.”

“The tracking of the beds,” added Rep. Joe Schmick, “is vital and necessary if we’re going to get care out into the community to those who need it.”

Recommendations related to services and involuntary treatment were also included under the systems infrastructure umbrella. These categories include the following recommendations:

  • “The state must continue the development of resources in the community to increase provider capacity and community support, as well as investment in Home and Community Services and Area Agency on Aging case management to access and provide client-centered behavioral health case management.”
  • “The state must increase the deployment of assertive community treatment teams.”
  • “The state should increase capacity for structured involuntary treatment diversions such as crisis triage, peer respite, and stabilization centers.”
  • “The state must ensure that crisis treatment facilities are reimbursed for providing behavioral health services which meet the standard of medical necessity and are not limited by the legal standard for involuntary commitment.”

The second bucket of recommendations considered by the task force relates to supporting the state’s behavioral health workforce. Within this section, the committee discussed recommendations to create behavioral health apprenticeship programs, create a behavioral health support specialist license, expand mental health professionals’ ability to treat substance use disorder, and increase the use of peer services as part of the behavioral health care team.

Another proposal recommends expanding the Workforce Education Investment Act, and other financial aid programs, to provide free graduate tuition for students who commit to entering the behavioral health field.

“This is just such a critical need. If we do not have people who want to do this work…it’s very hard to provide these services or address any of the issues that we have talked about,” said Committee Co-Chair Sen. Manka Dhingra.

Lastly, committee members reviewed recommendations related to improvements in the state’s physical infrastructure. Here, the group evaluated recommendations aimed at focusing on the continuum of care so that patients do not spend more time than necessary in acute care settings, identifying dedicated revenue sources to build supportive housing units, and requiring agency collaboration to determine factors that create challenges when siting behavioral health facilities.

In terms of next steps, Sen. Dhingra says committee staff will take the edits discussed during the meeting and update the recommendation list. The legislators on the task force will then meet to discuss the updated draft and will send it out once consensus is reached.

The full list of recommendations discussed during Friday’s meeting is available here.