Kotek targets behavioral health system crisis – and plans ahead

From the Oregon Capital Chronicle, March 2023

As Kotek seeks more funding, the state also is working on a five-year plan

Gov. Tina Kotek is asking lawmakers to put $74.2 million into behavioral health programs in one bill as she begins crafting a five-year plan to address the state’s crisis.

Kotek and the state’s new behavioral health director, Ebony Clarke, spoke Monday to lawmakers on the Senate Health Care Committee about the need to expand mental health and addiction treatment services and programs in Oregon.

The funding requests in Senate Bill 1044 – and plans for more action – offer Oregonians a glimpse at the new governor’s approach to the state’s behavioral health crisis. Oregon routinely ranks among the worst states for access to care in national studies.

Kotek’s push to improve behavioral health includes more money to treat people and keep them out of jail, off the streets and in programs to avoid a return to Oregon State Hospital after they are discharged from the state-run psychiatric residential facility.

“When someone is ready to seek a mental health or substance abuse treatment, that should be easy to find, no matter where you are and it should be affordable,” Kotek told the committee. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen a rise in Oregonians needing services and a loss of essential workers who can support Oregonians on their path to recovery.”

The system struggles in all areas. For years, Oregon State Hospital has struggled to admit in a timely manner people sitting in county jails who need care so they can aid in their defense to face criminal charges. A federal court order mandates the state hospital to treat them, with set deadlines to return to their communities. That order, while it helps the state hospital’s backlog, puts more strain on community mental health programs that serve people in other settings.