Please Restore Behavioral Health Lifeline

Dec 17, 2020

LifeWorks NW CEO and President Mary Monnat

Opinion Editorial run in Portland Business Journal on 12/12/20: Gov. Brown, please restore crucial behavioral health lifeline

By Mary Monnat, LifeWorks NW, & Derald Walker, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare

Earlier this month, Gov. Kate Brown released her proposed state budget for 2021-2023. As our local, state and national governments continue to discuss further actions to curb the public health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, it cannot be stressed enough that the decisions around budgets, policy and priorities will have impacts long after this crisis is over.

Without continued funding of crucial health services, we are putting the lives of our state’s most vulnerable citizens at risk. It’s reassuring to see that the budget proposal includes some added investments in the behavioral health sector and does not make the sweeping cuts we feared. We are also pleased to see an increased focus on health equity and racial justice, increased investments in housing, as well as a workforce investment fund to diversify the behavioral health workforce. Investing in behavioral health saves lives, builds stronger communities and is a sound financial decision by our state.

That being said, it’s deeply disappointing that continued funding for Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) was not included in this budget, especially at a time when we desperately need federal investment, and the state stands to lose the unusually generous “4-to-1 match” offered by the federal government.

Oregon will lose almost $66 million in federal funding for mental health and addiction treatment by not funding CCBHCs.

CCBHC is federally lauded as the most innovative, comprehensive community-based behavioral health programs yet to be designed. Sixty-five percent of people coping with mental illness also have a chronic medical condition. The CCBHC model significantly improves health outcomes for individuals with both mental and physical health diagnoses by addressing their whole health needs.

CCBHC serves as a crucial infrastructure for the development of sustainable, integrated health services that improve and save lives – especially during a pandemic. It reduces emergency department utilization and medical admissions, as well as provides critical access to care and services for those who are considered high risk for Covid-19.

If we ignore the benefits that CCBHCs provide and don’t support the innovation needed in our health care system, we will fail the people who rely on these services. Tragically, they will be left without options and may face potentially life-threatening health concerns in their time of greatest need.

We can’t protect the health of our communities and leverage critical federal investments without the state’s support.

We are calling on Gov. Brown and our legislators to restore funding to this lifeline in our state and urge our community members to do the same. We offer our partnership in tackling the challenges ahead and are hopeful that the Legislature will look for insight from the behavioral health community to preserve and build the most effective services at a time they are needed more than ever.

Derald Walker is CEO of Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare and Mary Monnat is CEO of LifeWorks NW.

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