It makes sense to invest in human services

Wilda Parks, President and CEO of the North Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce

Wilda Parks, President and CEO of the North Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce

Guest opinion by Wilda Parks, published in The Oregonian, May 30 2009

Wilda Parks is president and CEO of the North Clackamas County Chamber of Commerce.

Oregon’s business community has a special stake in investment in human services. If you know someone with a mental illness or addiction — or have one yourself — you understand the importance of prevention, treatment, and recovery services. But what if you aren’t directly affected by someone with a mental illness or substance abuse problem? As a taxpayer, why should you care how much the Oregon Legislature invests in these services?

The answer is simple: Investing in human services makes economic sense. It actually saves taxpayer dollars. An examination of the numbers shows us why this is true.

According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, when individuals receive outpatient treatment in their community, the cost to taxpayers is approximately $9 per day. Take away that vital service, and those individuals can end up in jail ($125 per day), the state hospital ($450 per day), or an acute-care bed in a hospital ($1,000 per day).

We can make similar comparisons for residential treatment and other support services. The reality is that eliminating services doesn’t eliminate need. Without community-based services, individuals in crisis seek care from the services left standing: emergency rooms, acute-care facilities, the state hospital or jail. Many others go without care until a crisis erupts.

The question to ask is this: Would we rather invest $9 per day in outpatient treatment in the community or spend significantly more for an unnecessary and avoidable placement in a jail cell or hospital bed?

Taxpayers clearly win when people receive appropriate treatment. But so, too, do employers, because they have a direct stake in employees showing up every day and producing results. When an employee with mental illness or substance abuse is in treatment or recovery, the employer wins because that employee has higher productivity, fewer absences, and lower health care costs.

According to a 2008 report by ECONorthwest, untreated substance abuse alone costs Oregon more than $4 billion in lost productivity every year. We can change that by investing in programs that we know work.

The conclusion for Oregonians is clear. The best way to protect taxpayers’ money is to continue to invest in human services.

READ – ECONorthwest’s The Economic Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in Oregon in 2006