Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


The local agency that supplies mental health services is considering merging with the agency that assists people with substance abuse problems.

The possible merger between Mountain Valley Mental Health and New Directions Northwest could simplify the Baker County commissioners' goal of improving care for clients of both agencies.

Commissioners heard during their meeting Wednesday from community members about local substance abuse care, and changes that could improve the quality of that care.

Commissioners have been considering releasing a Request for Proposal for mental health services - as well as addiction treatment - for the county's Oregon Health Plan and Medicaid patients.

If Mountain Valley Mental Health Inc. and New Directions Northwest Inc. reach an accord on how to provide treatment to the two groups - together somewhere between 20 percent and 25 percent of the county's population - then the RFP might not be necessary, said Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr.

Managers of the two facilities have been discussing how they might provide this treatment together and cohesively.

In a joint press release Thursday, Dale Bingham, chairman of the Mountain Valley board of directors, and Linda Noble, New Directions Northwest board chair, said they support the merger.

"We remain fully committed to having a smooth and seamless transition with no break in services to our clients," they said in the release.

Prompting the proposed change is Oregon's move to a Coordinated Care System as a way to reduce health-care costs. This would be achieved by various forms of preventive care. Each county will go about this in their own ways.

Mountain Valley Mental Health Inc. has been the county's long-term mental health provider. The county has been conducting an assessment of the contract with Mountain Valley for the upcoming fiscal year.

Steve Culley of Richland described the current system as a "black hole" that patients and their loved ones simply wander around in. They just "don't know where to start" when they seek out treatment because they can't find someone to even answer their questions.

"I don't mind doing the footwork," Culley said. "I just don't know where to start."

Many of the people who spoke to commissioners Wednesday said they are currently in substance abuse group therapy offered locally.

One woman in treatment said she couldn't get into Baker House, a New Directions facility, because the waiting list "is so long."

Another woman in treatment said that it's difficult for patients and counselors to work together productively because there aren't enough counselors to pair with patients.

Patients and counselors being able to work together is important to the patient's recovery, she said.

A third speaker, also in treatment, said no one was available before, during and after the Memorial Day weekend to provide care to people being held in the county jail. The jail has a contract with Mountain Valley for psychiatric and mental health services.

Addiction is the "biggest major problem our country has," Culley said.

Most of the speakers also told the commissioners they understand money and resources are limited.

Culley believes patients and their families would be best served by the county designating an employee to serve as a "go-to" contact who would help people navigate through the system. Warner, however, said that all health- care employees should be providing that type of assistance. It might require training or monitoring by supervisors to ensure that happens.

"I know there are things we can do without money," Warner said. "It shouldn't (take) a month to get services."

It definitely would be a good idea for the providers to get together with the public and clients to find out what's lacking in the local mental health-care system. This way, perhaps, improvements would occur, Warner said.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber recently received a commitment from the federal government to provide the state with $1.9 billion to help institute the coordinated care system.

Cost reduction also is one of the goals of the federal health-care overhaul legislation approved in 2010 and nicknamed "Obamacare."

Its actual name is The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. It's under review by the U.S. Supreme Court and part or all of it might be invalidated.

In other business Wednesday, the commissioners:

andbull; Approved an intergovernmental agreement between the county and state for corrections funds through June 30, 2013. The award is $361,348.

andbull; Heard from Bob Parker, Extension agent for Oregon State University, who talked about the program and some of the lesser-known offerings, such as health and nutrition information for families as well as career training and other educational endeavors. Some are for youth and others for adults. The managerial hierarchy has been changed in an effort to save OSU money.

andbull; Proposed that Justice of the Peace candidate Steve Bogart be considered as a judge pro-tem for the Baker County Justice Court. Commissioners would like to see Bogart and opponent Don Williams, who already is a pro-tem justice for the court, prepared to try cases as soon as possible. There is JOP training this summer. The general election is on Nov. 6 and the winner will be sworn in as the new JOP in January 2013.

andbull; Approved the purchase of an Activboard 500 Pro for use by emergency management personnel. It's a type of interactive whiteboard that allows lecturers to use their hands or a special pen to manipulate the material. It uses a projector, computer and other interactive tools for presentations. Cost is $5,720 for a system with a 95-inch screen. A grant from the Office of Emergency Management is paying for the equipment.

andbull; OK'd an agreement with the Oregon Department of Revenue for the county to have cartography done. The budget would allow for up to $16,500 in map maintenance work.

andbull; Awarded the county's contract for logging on its land to Skidgel Contracting, LLC. The highest priority areas for harvesting are in and near Puzzle Creek, where two tracts could bring the county an estimated $46,000. Two other tracts in Puzzle as well as one in Fizz Springs are lower priority but could potentially bring another $61,000 in profit, according to previous reports by county staff. Income from this harvest would help the county pay for Parks and Recreation Department needs.

andbull; Approved and amended several contracts for services through the Commission on Children and Families for such programs as Healthy Start, Foster Parent Appreciation and Retention and Court-Appointed Special Advocates.