A new committee formed by Gov. Kate Brown is tackling the state’s behavioral health care system with the goal of improving access and availability of services for Oregonians with serious mental illnesses.
The 35-member Behavioral Health Advisory Council will focus on the care of adolescents and adults with series mental health concerns, including those who also have substance use disorders.
Brown said the state is currently working with a “failed system.”
Recent surveys estimate that only 45% of Oregonians experiencing a mental illness and 11% of people with substance use disorders received treatment within the past year.
Around one in four adults with a serious mental illness also has a substance abuse disorder.
“Every person in Oregon grappling with a serious mental illness deserves access to the services they need, when they need them,” Brown said.
Brown issued an executive order last week that established the council, and on Wednesday announced the members, which include lawmakers, health care professionals, government officials, business leaders and mental health advocates.
Salem’s Republican Sen. Denyc Boles is among the council’s four legislators. She also serves as vice-chair on the new Senate Interim Committee On Mental Health.
Boles said she is pleased mental health care is becoming a top issue at the highest levels of state government and she’s hopeful the committee will dig into programs to find where people are falling through the cracks.
Through her personal experience, Boles said she is particularly interested in improving mental health care among youth in crisis, veterans and the elderly. It’s also important to have a system that can identify the unique characteristics of each group and treat them accordingly, she said.
“Our agencies and our systems should work together better,” Boles said.
According to the executive order, the council will be responsible for recommending an action plan that includes “concrete actions, policies and potential investments.”
The council will meet once per month for the next year and will send a final plan to the governor’s office no later than Oct. 1, 2020.
Brown said on a call with reporters Wednesday that the council will dovetail with her focus on mental health care funding in the 2021-2023 biennium.
This past legislative session, the Legislature committed $50 million of general fund money to behavioral health care.
That money is earmarked to go toward suicide prevention and substance abuse programs, foster care behavioral health services and increasing the capacity of behavioral health homes.
“The behavioral health challenges we face touch every family, every community and every sector,” said Steve Allen, behavioral health director for the Oregon Health Authority. “No one agency can fix them alone.”