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Commissioners concerned about state’s mental health shift

Linn County Communications Officer

Linn County Communications.

The Linn County Board of Commissioners accepted a $226,089 grant from the Oregon Health Authority to provide local counseling programs for persons with mental illness who have been charged with a crime at their meeting Aug. 16.

Public Health Director Todd Noble said the funds reflect the state’s efforts to move such programs to local jurisdictions.

The funds are part of a $1.35 billion package approved by the State Legislature in 2021 targeting behavioral health issues.

These funds are part of the “Aid and Assist” category, intended to provide treatment, housing and other support for people who are “not competent to face a criminal proceeding due to the severity of their mental health issue.”

Commissioners Roger Nyquist, Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker agreed there has been a major shift in such programs since the state has closed mental health hospitals statewide and reduced the number of in-patient beds available. 

Nyquist said former Public Health Director Frank Moore predicted counties would see greater demands for services 15 years ago as the state began hospital closures.

“The state reduced the number of hospital beds and has shifted that burden to local governments,” Nyquist said. “Frank Moore predicted it would lead to increased homelessness and a greater need for local services and duress. We will do the best we can with what we have.”

Noble called it, “definitely challenging for any community. The state has tried to provide services in a hospital setting and failed. This is an OHA decision.”

Commissioner Tucker said he felt like the county is caught “between a rock and a hard place” on this issue.

“We no longer have the hospitals for people to go to,” Tucker said. “We will need more staff to help out. We didn’t ask for this.”

Tucker compared this to “unfunded mandates,” an issue over which the county sued the state several years ago.

He said the state’s move to move some drug use crimes from felonies to misdemeanors has basically legalized those drugs and counties are seeing increased crime and mental health issues because of it.

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