Oregon, DOJ reached community mental health care agreement

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Signaling a turning point in a long-running investigation, thousands of people with mental disabilities could soon receive improved, more community based, services under a new agreement reached between the state of Oregon and the Department of Justice earlier this month.

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The agreement requires Oregon to shift the focus of its mental health care system toward programs such as housing, crisis center and case management services, as opposed to services in its state hospitals and other large, segregated settings. The agreement was obtained by the Salem Statesman-Journal through a public records request.

“We have heard a consistent messages that the State must invest more in critical community based services and that investments in institutions…are draining resources that should be used to keep people in their homes and communities,” Jonathan Smith, chief of the Justice Department’s Special Litigation Section, and S. Amanda Marshall, the U.S. Attorney for Oregon, wrote in letter to the state dated March 13.

The Department of Justice first began visiting the Oregon State Hospital in Salem in 2006, resulting in a scathing report in 2008.

The investigation widened in 2010 to include the state’s whole system of mental health services and whether the state is violating Americans with Disabilities Act regulations that require the state to provide services ensuring people with disabilities can remain integrated in their communities.

The state’s current two year budget allocates $339 million for services inside the state hospital and $434 million for community based services. However, the state hospital provides services for just 600 residents, while the community based programs serve “thousands” of individuals statewide.

“I think the overall message is that this is very encouraging and the timing is very good,” said Bob Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon.