State Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Roseburg, introduced legislation Wednesday that would establish three small around-the-clock support centers for Oregonians experiencing mental health crises.
Opening such facilities would help “close one of the gaps in our mental health system where the choices right now seem to be either expensive hospitalizations or people in need of treatment languishing in our justice system with no care,” said Hayden, a dentist who is vice chairman of the House Committee on Health Care.
Hayden’s legislation, House Bill 2831, would instruct the Oregon Health Authority to provide $2.25 million in funding to nonprofits to open “peer respite centers,” home-like facilities that provide voluntary peer support to people “experiencing acute distress, anxiety or emotional pain that may lead to the need for inpatient hospital services,” according to the bill.
The three centers, each in a home-like setting with six or fewer beds, would be located in Portland, southern Oregon and eastern Oregon.
In submitting the legislation, Hayden referred to a story published Sunday in The Oregonian called “Costly, ineffective, cruel.”
The story detailed Oregon’s practice of sending mentally ill people charged with low-end crimes, many of whom are homeless, to jail and to the state psychiatric hospital for trial readiness treatment. Taxpayers have spent more than $165 million on treatment for those defendants since 2012, the news organization found, and nearly one in five patients are readmitted for treatment related to new charges within a year.
The system stems from every defendant’s right to be able to “aid and assist” their defense. But as the article showed, the costly treatment is largely ineffective and the psychiatric hospital is often beyond its capacity to admit more such patients, causing some defendants to languish in jail as they await hospital admission.
Hayden said the article “painted a startling picture of the reality of what happens when there is not enough investment or innovation in mental health.”
Knowledgeable sources quoted in the piece suggested state lawmakers should direct more money to community-based mental health centers that are more cost-effective and often deliver better outcomes. Some such facilities already exist but not enough. And people charged with even low-end crimes are barred from being treated at most of them.
Being sent to a large mental hospital can lead to patients feeling stigmatized or distrustful of the criminal justice system, Hayden said. Peer-based crisis centers like the kind he hopes the state will fund would offer better care, he said. Georgia and New York are known for pioneering them more than a decade ago, and at least a half dozen other states also operate centers using the peer-based model.
“Sometimes what a patient really needs is a break from the patterns they’re stuck in,” Hayden said, “where support from a peer with similar past experiences can create the most effective form of healing.”
Hayden worked on his bill with Kevin Fitts, executive director of the Oregon Mental Health Consumers Association. Crisis centers like the one Hayden’s bill would fund “are an effective service model that can lower costly hospitalization rates,” Fitts said.
Hayden said he will seek bipartisan support for his bill.
“These issues touch us all, regardless of our political affiliation or our geography,” he said. “If these three peer centers can be proved out in a trial across the state, then my goal will be to help every lawmaker expand the program to their own communities in the future.”