October 23, 2019

A steering committee of local and state health officials, elected leaders and advocates gathered last week to begin a process of prioritizing key recommendations from a comprehensive analysis of the county’s mental health system.

Director of the Mental Health and Addiction Services Division Ebony Clarke, center left, and County Commissioner Sharon Meieran chair a steering committee to push ahead on mental health reform

Multnomah County Commissioner Sharon Meieran in 2017 spearheaded the analysis in order to build a mental health system that would be person-centered, focused on improving access and minimizing barriers, coordinated across agencies and systems, peer-driven, and  focused on meaningful outcomes that support recovery. 

The August 2018 Multnomah County Mental Health System Analysis yielded important findings along with priority recommendations. Multnomah County embarked on the second phase of the project in June 2019.

This second phase, Analyze, Align & Act: A Blueprint for Better Behavioral Health, will seek to clarify a shared vision for our mental health system and identify goals across a number of topic areas, including:  system funding, data integration and sharing, peer support, services for people with complex needs,, services for youth and older adults, physical and mental health integration, and workforce recruitment and retention.

The work will be led by a “Blueprint” Steering Committee that includes consumers of mental health services, mental health providers, administrators and advocates. It is co-chaired by Commissioner Meieran and Director of the Mental Health and Addiction Services Division Ebony Clarke. It includes: 

  • Patricia Charles-Heathers, Multnomah County Health Department director

  • Steve Allen, behavioral health director at the Oregon Health Authority

  • Jill Archer, vice president of Behavioral Health at CareOregon

  • Chris Bouneff, executive director at NAMI Oregon

  • Kevin Fitts, executive director at the Oregon Mental Health Consumers Association

  • Janie Gullickson, executive director for the Mental Health & Addiction Association of Oregon

  • Lynn Smith-Stott, supervisor at Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division, Office of Consumer Engagement

  • Deandre Kenyanjui, coordinator at Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division, Office of Consumer Engagement

  • Lakeesha Dumas, coordinator at Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division, Office of Consumer Engagement

  • Rachel Solotaroff, president and CEO of Central City Concern

  • Jeffrey Eisen, chief medical officer at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare

  • Mark Lewinsohn, vice president of Clinical Services for Lifeworks NW

  • Ajit Jetmalani, director of the Division of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the Oregon Health & Science University

  • Robin Henderson, chief executive of Behavioral Health Services at Providence Health & Services

  • Nan Waller, Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge

  • Abbey Stamp, executive director of the Multnomah County Local Public Safety Coordinating Council

  • Bevin Croft, the Behavioral Health Reform lead researcher for Human Services Research Institute.

The Blueprint Committee’s work is governed by a charter that lays out its mission, responsibilities and phases of work. And, committee members have pledged to share the committee’s work with the public.

A steering committee for the second phase of behavioral health reform gather in October 2019.

“It’s exciting that amidst all the system issues and challenges, we are pushing for change and taking this time,” Mental Health Director Ebony Clarke told the Committee during its second meeting, Oct. 16. “Many of you talked about how this time feels different. I can’t remember the last time a group of leaders rolled up their sleeves and dug in. That’s what has continued to drive and motivate me.”

Jeffrey Eisen, chief medical officer at Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare agreed, both on the tall order of the work and the hope that the committee can make some changes. “I have great optimism,” he said, noting he especially looks forward to working together more closely to create a unified system. 

Committee members with lived experience said they were cautiously optimistic that, after decades of dysfunction in the mental health system, this time things will be different. 

“A lot of times we miss the mark to do something different,” said Deandre Kenyanjui, coordinator at Multnomah County’s Mental Health and Addiction Services Division, Office of Consumer Engagement. “I want to look at how current policy gets in the way of innovation and challenge that.”

The committee broke into applause and murmurs of agreement.

Chris Bouneff, Executive Director NAMI Oregon, echoed Kenyanjui’s concern. 

“I’m constantly reminded that before we had coverage, we were defined by the burdens we put on the systems, law enforcement, emergency rooms,” he told the group. “Now we have coverage, but the healthcare system is still not responding.”

He said if the committee doesn’t push for big change, the system will simply continue to fail those most in need. 

Oregon State Rep. Andrea Salinas, who chairs  the House Health Care Committee and attended the meeting as an invited guest, called the current healthcare system, not a system at all, but a “healthcare morass.” She encouraged local and state leaders to “think big and think out of the box, because that’s what the system needs.” 

“What I am hoping for is that big grand vision. Don’t get stuck in today’s paradigm,” Rep. Salinas said. “You are the leaders to make that happen. It is so right. What is happening now is not working. Upset the applecart. It’s not working for those needing services. Keep people in mind and think of the grand vision.’’