Editorial: Douglas County Mental Health

From the Roseburg News Review, July 9 2008

Latest failure highlights a system still in crisis

There’s talking about doing something, and then there’s actually doing something.

Unfortunately, a third option exists, which is talking about doing something and then doing nothing.

That seems to be where we are these days in the field of bolstering Douglas County’s mental health infrastructure, crippled last year with the closure of Mercy Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit.

A series of articles in this newspaper detailed the fallout of that decision — fewer people getting care at early stages of mental health needs, an increase in the number of people incarcerated because there is no place to send them to get help, children falling by the wayside, families forced to travel long distances to get help for a loved one, or unable to get there at all.

Two companies had announced plans to step in and fill the gap in Douglas County, one on the adult side of the equation and one providing services for children, adolescents and younger adults.

Months later, the provider of adult services, Telecare Corp., remains in contract talks with the state. And the second company, ChristieCare, announced last week that it has been unable to develop the range of services it wanted to provide in the county, including a planned treatment program for children in foster care and a transition home for young adults.

The problem for all of the entities interested in filling the mental health gap has largely been one of funding.

Mercy closed the BHU after years of losing money, and other providers have been unable to make the numbers work either, citing an underfunded state mental health system that provides reimbursement rates that simply are not high enough to allow private providers to run an operation.

The bottom line issue remains this: Those who control the state budget in Salem simply are not making it a priority to fund a viable mental health system in Oregon.

The governor is aware of it. State legislators are aware of it.

There’s been a lot of talk about building a system that provides services across a wide spectrum of the mental health field, catching those who need help at whatever stage they need it, keeping them out of that last grim resort — long-term care at the state hospital in Salem.

Erinn Kelley-Siel, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s human services policy adviser, earlier said the governor’s office has told the state Legislature that the millions now being spent on rebuilding the state hospital will not correct the shortfalls in mental health care.

“We need to transition,” Kelley-Siel said. “We need care to prevent patients from ending up in the hospital in the first place.”

What better place to start than with children who need help? And we couldn’t even do that.

So the talking about doing something continues. Unfortunately, so does the doing nothing.

EXTRA – ChristieCare scraps mental health plan, Roseburg News Review, June 29 2008
EXTRA – Editorial: Mental Health – Flexibility may result from finding new provider, Roseburg News Review, April 9 2008
EXTRA – County to cut ties to mental health group Jefferson Behavioral Health, Roseburg News Review, March 26, 2008
EXTRA – Negotiations for mental health services [Telecare] continue, Roseburg News Review, March 4, 2008
EXTRA – Gaps in local care a concern [Carol Halley], Roseburg News Review, December 26 2007
EXTRA – State struggles to meet needs of mentally ill, Roseburg News Review, December 26 2007