Behavioral Health Board to make plans for new revenue

Jim Raney spent the afternoon Wednesday driving around Washington County in his pickup taking down signs that urged voters to support the Nov. 7 mental health levy.

It was the aftermath of success in an election that finally gave the Washington County Behavioral Health Board the local financial support of a levy. On Tuesday, 53.93 percent of voters approved the levy proposal to give the board about $737,000 a year for five years to increase the breadth of locally-based mental health and addiction services and broaden access to them for the working poor.

Raney, a member of the board and co-chair of the levy committee, said intensive work on crafting and promoting the levy had been underway since August 2016. It was the board’s fifth attempt to get voter support for a levy and the first that has succeeded.

What happens next?

“We have to get together as a board and develop a plan of action,” Raney said. The board already has several broad efforts in mind, but it can now, with the levy passed, drill into the details.

Raney said the efforts fall into general categories: Prevention through education at the school level, detoxification for those for whom prevention didn’t work, residential and outpatient treatment after detox, and sober living recovery housing as a concluding stage.

“There’s the idea of converting an unused wing of the county home (on County House Lane) into a detox wing,” he said. “We’ve been working with the state and county on that, and there might be some state money coming our way.”

A facility like that, he said, could start to address one of the county’s major problems — people being detoxified in the county jail.

“Right now, when someone is really strung out on alcohol or drugs, we’re just throwing them in jail, where they suffer immeasurably while detoxifying. If they can go through that under medical care, they suffer much less trauma to the body and soul,” he said.

Other prospects for the future include expanding the number of residential treatment beds for addicted people who are seeking help but not necessarily being referred to treatment through the court system. The board has two beds at Oriana House, the recently established residential center west of Marietta in the Reno area, but Raney said, “That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the demand.” Oriana’s facilities are primarily used by referrals from court.

Another unmet need, he said, is a sober living residence for women.

Over the past several years, the board has seen funding from senior governments dwindle, and the levy will help restore services that have diminished during that time, he said. It also presents added opportunities.

“As a board, we will have to think both up and down by taking advantage of opportunities at the state and federal level. There is grant money available, and we have the matching money now.”

Grants, both from government and from other organizations such as nonprofits, usually require commitments of local funding to demonstrate community support, and with the levy in place, that support can be used to leverage grant funding.

Miriam Keith, the community recovery advocate and one of two full-time employees at the agency, said the levy will give the board a chance to restore some of its lost services and add new ones, including PAX, an evidence-based prevention program designed for schools.

Program material indicates the PAX program is not specifically centered on substance abuse. Through the Good Behavior Game, it encourages children to think about the ideal classroom environment by identifying behaviors that contribute to peace, productivity, health and happiness — elements called PAX — and those that don’t, which are called spleems. The distinction between the two, studies have shown, allows children to manage and regulate themselves by developing a basic sense of judgment.

“It’s proven these programs can be very effective,” she said.

“We’ve already done some planning,” she said, including restoring better access to services for the working poor, who don’t qualify for public assistance but also don’t have health insurance or have health insurance that isn’t adequate..

“Now it’s real,” she said in reference to passage of the levy. “We can buckle down and make sure we do the very best we can do with this money to be good stewards … This doubles what we have to work with.”

Raney, who is one of 14 members on the board, said he couldn’t speak for the board as a whole but the new levy funding will open an array of fresh opportunities for the agency, including access to more funding through grants.

“It’s an effort to apply for these grants, it takes manpower and special grant writing expertise. I don’t know if the board is interested in hiring someone like that, but it would be a way of getting the biggest bang for the buck,” he said.

The levy will also allow the agency to beef up its programs done in conjunction with other community groups such as Right Path for Washington County, EVE Inc. and House of Hope.

The agency will need to fill gaps left in the wake of potential funding cuts to government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare and the increasing trend toward insurance companies through employer programs placing more of the financial burden on patients.

“Health care costs are going up, putting more people at risk, and mental health insurance is inadequate,” Raney said. The levy support might allow the board to implement a sliding scale for costs based on income.

“It would subsidize health care for individuals. We could put that in place so people can afford treatment,” he said.

Why did the levy pass this time after voters had resisted it for so many years?

“In our past attempts, the levies were focused on children, and they were one mill,” Raney said. “This one was more broadly focused, and it was only half a mill. It was a more modest ask for a broader purpose.”

In the immediate future, the board is holding a reception Tuesday at the Lafayette Hotel to thank all the donors and volunteers who worked to get the levy passed.

“We would have done that whether it passed or not,” he said. “The campaign was a great exercise in creating awareness about mental health in the community.”

At a glance

The Washington County Mental Health levy:

¯ Provides about $737,000 a year for five years.

¯ Costs the owner of a $100,000 home about $17.50 a year.

¯ Doubles the available funding for the Washington County Behavioral Health Board.

¯ Could have a leveraging effect by providing local match for grant applications.

Source: Washington County Behavioral Health Board.