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Behavioral Health Advisory Council meets

The 35-member council includes legislators assigned to committees on mental health, as well as mental health advocates and industry professionals from across the state

Oregon State HospitalThursday marked the first meeting for the Behavioral Health Advisory Council established by Gov. Kate Brown to make policy recommendations for improving care for Oregon's adults and teenagers dealing with mental illness and substance use disorders. 

The 35-member council includes legislators assigned to committees on mental health, as well as mental health advocates and industry professionals from across the state. While Thursday's meeting was not open to the public, Brown said this initial meeting pulled back the curtain on the harsh reality that the state's jail system is currently the major provider for Oregonians dealing with severe mental and behavioral health issues. Moving quickly away from that method, she said, is the aim of this council. 

"When we closed down the Dammasch Hospital (in 1995) the goal was to provide community services. We've honestly just created another institution and it's one behind bars," Brown said. "We have to change that. We have to make sure that folks with serious and persistent behavioral health issues have the support and services they need regardless of whether they live." 

According to data from the Oregon Health Authority, tens of thousands of Oregonians suffer from mental illnesses or substance use disorders, or often both. The Behavioral Health Advisory Council's charge is to ensure every Oregonian receives timely access to a full spectrum of behavioral health care. 

Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, is one of several legislators on the council representing the house health care committee's subcommittee on behavioral health. For Hayden, any approach to improving care for behavioral health across the board needs to start with a reprioritization of how the

$3.2 billion per biennium that Oregon spends on this issue to establish better incentives for community-based mental health care to improve. 

"I believe the fractured system that we have is a fairly expensive system where the priorities, or incentives, are not based on what is best for the client," Hayden said. "One of my pushes in this is to try and work with our partners out there to start returning data back to the state, financial data, saying, OK so you got this money, what did you do with it and how much went into actually interacting with patients or providing a mental health provider to go with public safety on a call?" 

The council will meet monthly for the next year and will seek to provide answers to questions around early detection and effective treatment of mental health and substance abuse disorder, how to provide timely access for adults and teenagers, and how to provide wrap-around services like housing and job training aimed at getting people back on their feet after suffering a mental health crisis.