Benton County agreed Tuesday, April 18 to permanently fund eight new positions while seeking counselors to serve as a rapid, in-person mental health crisis response team.
The challenge will be to fill the positions by the start of the state biennium in July.
Elected leaders have approved the creation of positions needed to staff two-person teams that will try to intervene between those most likely to be involuntarily hospitalized, arrested or separated from their families and the police, who respond most often to behavioral health emergencies.
“We are more than confident that this is a cost neutral point for the county,” county mental health director Damien Sands said.
Permanent funding will come from the Oregon Health Authority and a monthly fee per teammate from the InterCommunity Health Network, the regional coordinator for Medicaid services.
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In 2020, Congress replaced the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline with a national crisis hotline, available around the clock, by dialing 988.
The hotline serves as a point of contact for suicidal and distraught callers and a dispatcher with the aim of getting more people in mental health crisis on the phone or to speak with a trained counsellor.
Federal regulators put 988 live in 2022.
The country was responding in part to widespread protests that year over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
This was around the time municipalities began to look to Oregon for a possible mobile crisis response model at Eugene-based nonprofit CAHOOTS – Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets.
Responders with Mobile Crisis Teams are trained to interact with people who are disoriented or unable to care for themselves or function while affected by addiction or serious mental illness.
These are calls where someone is experiencing an emergency but is not a danger to others or requires medical assistance.
In many communities, police respond to behavioral health crises. Up to one in four people killed by police have a serious mental illness, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center in a 2015 report.
While Congress has ordered the Justice Department to determine how often police kill people with mental illness, exact national figures are not available because only two out of five law enforcement agencies have provided their crime statistics.
Oregon law enforcement participated at a higher rate – 208 of 235 in 2021, or 88.5%.
The state legislature has allocated $15 million in 2021 to fund two call centers, in Portland and Salem, and build local government teams providing mobile crisis services.
Oregon required each community to be able to answer 988 calls. A state law requires that all officially recognized community mental health programs have two-person teams available to respond to calls around the clock.
In communities like Albany and Corvallis, these teams must be available to respond to a crisis within an hour.
A Linn County employee told Mid-Valley Media in 2022 that staffing would be key to setting up the crisis line and mobile response teams.
“Workforce is obviously a question mark right now, and we need a workforce to support that,” said Tanya Thompson, mental health program manager.
A bill making its way through the State House would create a funding base for mobile crisis teams in each of Oregon’s 36 counties and pull multiple streams of funding into a single revenue stream called the 988 Trust Fund.
Alex Powers (he/him) covers agribusiness, Benton County, the environment and the city of Lebanon for Mid-Valley Media. Call 541-812-6116 or tweet @OregonAlex.