Capital Bureau

SALEM — In what has been touted as an efficiency measure, the staffs of two state boards the oversee Oregon’s mental health professionals plan to merge in the coming budget cycle.

But under Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget, spending for the merged organization will be greater than for the two separate staffs.

The state’s nine-member Oregon Board of Psychologist Examiners — which was recently renamed the Oregon Board of Psychology through legislation — is the licensing, investigative and disciplinary board for psychologists, who have doctorates. Likewise, the eight-member Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists regulates licensed counselors and therapists, who typically have masters’ degrees.

The Board of Psychologist Examiners and the Board of Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists have shared one executive director since late 2013, after two years of significant staff turnover. In the 2011-2013 budget biennium, the Board of Psychologist Examiners saw five executive directors.

Brown’s proposed budget of about $3.48 million is a 21 percent increase from the budget approved by the Legislature for both boards’ staffs in 2015-17. The governor’s budget also says it “invests in an upgraded online database system and co-located office for the two boards.”

The governor’s budget proposes giving the combined organization a staff of 11 full-time equivalents, compared to 4.5 each now.

If the Legislature approves the merger, the boards will keep separate their funding streams and expenditures.

The current executive director of both boards, Charles Hall, told lawmakers during a budget hearing last month that the number counselors and therapists licensees and interns “continues to soar.”

Over the past decade, the number of counseling and therapy licenses has grown an average of about 14 percent per year. The number of psychologist licensees, about 12 percent. Three additional FTEs would be assigned to licensing issues.

Complaints have increased as well — for the board of counselors and therapists, about 15 percent per year, and psychologists, 9.5 percent.

Total investigations jumped 33 percent between 2011 and 2016, Hall said.

Hall told members of the Legislature’s Joint Subcommittee on Education that the board had been using temporary employees to fill the gaps.

Personnel costs drive about half of the boards’ expenses.

Predicting the budget for the boards can be difficult, Hall told lawmakers, because expenses such as attorneys’ fees for contested cases can range from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per case.

The governor also proposed increasing licensee and intern renewal fees for counselors and therapists by $40.

Licensure fees for counselors and therapists have not increased since 2002, according to the board.

Hall did not respond to a request for further comment Monday.

The two boards get most of their revenue from fees — including those assessed for licenses — and receive no money from the state’s general fund or lottery funds.

Sen. Rod Monroe, D-Portland, said at the subcommittee meeting last month that the Legislature’s role is to provide some oversight, despite the boards’ limited impact on the state’s overall budget.

“It’s really easy to say, well, that’s other-funded, so it doesn’t matter,” Monroe said. “But it does matter. It matters to those professionals that are paying those license fees every year that they’re getting the service they need. It matters to the general public that investigations are being properly carried out, so that the agencies are meeting people’s needs. And so that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”