PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Currently, Oregon ranks at the bottom for mental and behavioral health access. But change could be on the horizon in the near future.
New legislation kicking in at the start of next year is expected to help the state turn a corner and get more people access to mental health services.
Many people have struggled to get critical mental health care in Oregon, simply because there are not enough mental healthcare workers to treat them. The legislation going into effect aims at addressing the workforce shortage by improving wages.
House Bill 5202 offers staff who care for Medicaid and Oregon Health Plan patients a permanent 30% increase in rates and pay codes in the new year. The federal government recently approved this increase. The bill also ensures ongoing funding for behavioral health in Oregon.
“The mental and behavioral health crisis is affecting every community in Oregon. If we haven’t been personally impacted, we all know someone who has,” said Representative Tawna Sanchez (D-North and Northeast Portland), Co-Chair of the Joint Ways and Means Committee. “Paying providers what they deserve is a major step in the right direction and I look forward to ensuring we continue these efforts to expand access to care.”
Rep. Rob Nosse (D-Portland) chairs the house interim committee on behavioral health. He says this change is helping local mental health centers go from paying therapists $45,000 to $60,000 per year.
“This is a really big deal,” said Nosse. “Ideally, we finally start to get people better pay and then make it attractive to do this work. They stick with the job — and then when people start calling 311, we’ve got people that we can deploy, people who are trained and then we’ll have spaces and places for those folks to go.”
With 1.3 million Oregonians on Medicaid, leaders hope this change will help turn a new leaf on a long, underfunded issue.
“Portlanders and residents of Multnomah County and other parts of the state that are experiencing people dealing with mental health challenges will start to see some progress,” Nosse said.
The House Bill appropriates more than $42 million of state money to better fund mental and behavioral health every year — which will be matched by $100 million in federal funding annually.
Leaders of OHA think Oregonians will start seeing benefits from this investment within the next year. However, it’s unknown when the state will be able to get out of crisis mode regarding mental health.