On Tuesday January 17th consumers, front-line workers, family members, students, and elected officials from across Oregon gathered in Portland and Eugene for a forum on mental health and addictions services as Oregon works to transform its health care system. Participants shared stories of success and failure in our current mental health and addictions system as well as ways we can make improvements on the system to make it truly work for everyone. It was amazing to see how much energy and passion people brought to this critical issue and the hunger out there for real and substantial change. What we heard again and again was the need for expanded access so that people can get the services they need and the need for front-line mental health and addictions workers to feel safe in their jobs through proper staffing and adequate training.
Stories shared by participants in the forum and information gathered at small group breakout sessions were submitted to the Oregon Health Policy Board for their consideration as they finish their final proposal on Health Care Transformation to the legislature.
However, as was stated Tuesday night, our fight for an addictions and mental health system that really works for workers, consumers, and advocates continues. We will need to continue to fight for better access, better staffing ratios, and more rights for front-line workers in order to have a system that truly works. Our next steps will be to watch the process as it unfolds at the legislature in February and at Oregon Health Policy Board meetings throughout the next year.
Empower Oregon is a project of the Service Employees International Union Local 503 which seeks to unite frontline addictions and mental health workers to successfully advocate for their clients and themselves from their workplaces to the State Capitol. We are union and non-union workers dedicated to providing quality human services and opportunities to find recovery and live with independence and dignity for the individuals we serve: People with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders; individuals struggling to overcome substance abuse addictions and people who are homeless. The essential services we provide help our clients become healthier, more productive members of our community.
n the 2011 legislative session Oregon legislature enacted a law to transform the health care delivery system, starting with the 609,000 Oregonians on the Oregon Health Plan. The bill creates consortia of health care providers to meet the needs of these patients. These consortia — known as Coordinated Care Organizations (CCOs) — would include a hospital, a group of doctors, a group of dentists, and a group of mental health providers. In the current system, a relatively small number of the 609,000 Oregonians on the Oregon Health Plan get the mental health or addiction services they need. We are fighting to expand these services and improve the quality of care. With expanded care for clients and workers uniting together, we can improve funding so that we can better fight for staffing, training, and a voice at work for our mental health providers. Currently we are mobilizing both members and non-members who work in mental health and addictions to attend community meetings being held by the health policy board around the state. Overall this legislation is great but we need to make sure the voice of the front line workers is heard during the next few months.
Last week hundreds of providers of disability services and supports flocked to Salem for a Lobby day to protect the clients they provide service and supports to from looming budget cuts. Not everyone was able to attend in person, but through the magic of technology they were able to deliver their message via video to their representatives. Check out some of these powerful stories from providers all across Oregon talking about the impact budget cuts would have on the clients they serve.
Originally posted at EmpowerOregon.org
In 2009 a law was passed that created a list of permanently disqualifying crimes that would bar any worker with one of these crimes in their past from ever working in many fields including addictions and mental health.
This law impacts hundreds of excellent addictions councilors and mental health workers who themselves are in recovery. There is substantial research indicating that services provided by individuals who are in recovery themselves results in better outcomes for clients. A counselor who has personal experience with addiction or mental illness is better able to relate to their clients and their clients can receive the treatment they need in an environment where they do not feel judged. However, these same effective workers are also more likely to have committed a crime, meaning this bill would result in a substantial loss of qualified and effective mental health and addictions professionals.
Last summer, with your help, we were able to delay implementation of the bill until July 2011 for addictions workers, but we need a permanent fix that includes mental health and addiction workers. There is currently a bill in the Oregon Senate (SB524) which would exempt Mental Health and Addictions workers from the list of permanently disqualifying crimes. Workers with a criminal record would be given a fitness assessment and they would be able to take this assessment with them if they change jobs and are again subject to a background check.
In order for us to permanently fix the legislation passed in 2009 we need your support. Senators are deciding right now if they will support SB 524 and they need to hear from you. Please take some time today to write your Senator telling them why you support frontline Addictions and Mental Health workers and the passage of SB 524.
Empower Oregon is an integrated campaign of SEIU Local 503, with the goal of uniting frontline mental health and addictions workers to successfully advocate for their clients, their services and themselves from their workplaces all the way to the State Capitol.
One of the biggest challenges to quality community based social services is adequate funding. Empower Oregon volunteers, many from unrepresented private non profit social service agencies, joined 503 members in January to pass two tax reform measures which saved much of the current funding levels for critical services in Oregon. This was no small task since Oregonians historically turn down any sort of tax related measures.
In March, after a bill passed implementing severely restrictive criminal history background check rules for workers, our efforts obtained a delay in implementation for drug and alcohol counselors. Many of the most successful additions counselors were once users themselves with criminal histories connected to their substance abuse. Overcoming their addictions adds much value to their life experience often making them the most credible and effective counselors for those still suffering. Since the delay in the new law covering addictions counselors was not permanent, sustained effort was called for.
In July Empower Oregon and ACCBO, the Addiction Counselor Certification Board of Oregon, lead a “Recovery Oriented Systems of Care” public forum on the issue. Voice was given to hundreds of affected addictions counselors, clients, and community supporters who came together to listen, share and learn about restrictive and inconsistent issues with Oregon’s criminal background check system. Present to hear the testimony was a panel of legislators and State Department of Human Services officials. State Representative Michael Dembrow summed up the thoughts of everyone who attended the forum by saying: “If the law prevents [therapists and caregivers] from working in this field and giving back to the community, then the law must be changed.”
Stakeholders continue to come together, lead by Empower Oregon’s effort to give front line workers a real voice for quality accessible community based mental health and addictions services. Many workers interested in a lasting voice at their agencies as well as the Capitol are taking a look at becoming part of SEIU Local 503 in order to join with union members who serve the same clients and mirror their dedication to quality services. They see that when it comes to improving the quality of services we provide, they really are stronger together.