Brian O’Connell executive director of the National Association for Mental Health, chided Oregon Tuesday for its slow pace in developing community mental health centers.
So far only one, in Eugene, is funded, said O’Connell in an interview in Portland and later before a dinner meeting of Benton, Linn, Polk, Lane and Marion mental health representatives at the Swept Wing Restaurant at Albany.
Idaho, he said, has seven centers established with five in operation. Oregon only has three other projected, in Portland, Jackson County and eastern Oregon, probably in Pendleton.
“Oregon also needs to develop much more up to date and humane commitment laws,” said O’Connell whose headquarters are at Rosslyn, VA.
“Oregon is far behind most states in correcting the abuses of involuntary commitment. It is far too easy in Oregon for a person to be deprived of his rights and not to have his case regularly reviewed. It is a throwback to the days when it was too easy for courts, police and others to decide that someone should be hospitalized.”
The Oregon Mental Health Association, he said, is concerned about improving the law and has taken note of “what we consider almost the model law just passed in California.”
“Oregon laws,” he said, “really put the burden of proof on the individual and automatically take away many of his civil rights.”
“Oregon also needs more services for children,” he said.
“At the present time, there are almost no separate resident treatment centers for children, although the Mental Health Association has small funds made available to establish a few experimental residential programs.
“Even if the state begins to develop these residential treatment centers, this doesn’t even begin to deal with the amount of services necessary, and it really deals at the extreme of the spectrum.
“It means there are no services available until someone decides a child is so sick he has to be hospitalized. What’s needed for children in particular are programs for early identification and treatment. This should be a part of the community mental health centers which need to be developed and part of the preschool and early school screening.”
Approximately 5 per cent of all children have some problems which limit their ability to function in school and one per cent are so disturbed as to require extensive care, O’Connell said.
The National Association for Mental Health is “outraged,” O’Connell said, with the absence of even minimal coverage for mental illness in almost all of the national health insurance proposals introduced to date in Congress.
“Even the administration’s proposals have almost no coverage for mental illness.”
Kennedy bill noted
Only the Kennedy bill comes anywhere close to standards established, he said. The national association is pushing hardest for four programs needed the most, he said:
1. Development of local services, largely in the form of community mental health centers, so that treatment is available close to home and hospitalization is rarely needed.
2. Adequate services for children and adolescents for whom the problems are increasing but services are not.
3. Adequate assurance within individual plans and in any national insurance programs which might be developed.
4. Improved public attitudes so that people will be willing to seek help early and be tolerant of some unable to cope. This is still the largest single obstacle to early treatment. People do not want to admit they might have a problem of an emotional nature.”
O’Connell will speak to directors of the Oregon Mental Health Association in Portland Wednesday.