PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Starting this year, a new Oregon law will help secure more than $140 million annually for improving mental health care in the state.

However, smaller mental health care providers are saying all the red tape is preventing them from participating in the publicly funded program. One of the big issues surrounding mental health care in Oregon is that there are not enough therapists to treat people.

Addressing mental health care has become a key focus in Oregon recently. A lot of states and federal money is now being put into the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), in order to raise rates, and in turn, raise the salaries of mental health care workers — incentivizing them to want to stay in this line of work.

But as smaller mental healthcare practices have tried to apply for their certifications to be a part of the Oregon Health Plan, they’re feeling stonewalled. Mental health care providers say the application process to become in network with the OHP is burdensome.

“Others have told me it takes over a year. Three of their staff had to do it. There were multiple revisions due to feedback,” said Jennifer Dodd from the Embodied Life Therapy Center. “And someone quoted me support to help me do my application, but it will cost $5,000. I’ve since learned people have been quoted up to $10,000 to help with this application… It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous.”

Dodd says if the state is truly in crisis, then they should be acting like it.

“We do not have a ton of time in this mental health crisis to also go to all your orientations, to hire consultants, to fill out applications, to use our resources, she said. “It feels like gatekeeping and it seems like talk is cheap to me.”

Oregon Rep. Rob Nosse chairs the committee on behavioral health and health care. He said there is often a lot of paperwork involved in being part of the OHP network.

“Unfortunately, we have regulations stacked upon regulations, and a lot of those rules, they exist for reasons,” Nosse said.

In recent years, he says lawmakers have attempted to reduce the paperwork process.

“We have not succeeded at that, to be totally honest,” he said.

But he says it’s an issue he aims to address more head-on with another small bill this year that tasks the Oregon Health Authority with hiring a research analyst to meet with industry experts to decipher what regulations create unnecessary burden.

He says they’ll be asking the questions: “what are regulations that we have on the books today that are making it harder to hire somebody to do therapy, to do charting? What can we get rid of?”

Once Oregon Health Authority has reviewed the current rules and regulations, Nosse hopes to have a bill ready to break down the bureaucracy of mental health care in 2024.

“I think oftentimes we’re not always so sure why we have the [rules] or what purpose they’re serving,” Nosse added.

KOIN 6 News observed an orientation that OHA puts on regularly to teach mental health care providers how to fill out their Certificate of Approval. During the seminar, a compliance specialist acknowledged multiple times just how labor-intensive the process is.

While nothing in government is a quick fix, Nosse wants smaller mental health care providers to know this problem is on his radar.

“Untangling that unfortunately takes work,” he said.