Beleaguered health care sector getting $500 million from Oregon Health Authority

The infusion comes at a crucial time for mental health and addiction treatment providers that were hard hit during the pandemic

By: - June 15, 2022 5:55 am
Oregon Health Authority building

The Oregon Health Authority is investing more than $500 million in behavioral health and addiction treatment. (Oregon Health Authority)

The Oregon Health Authority is using more than half a billion dollars to support behavioral health and addiction services in the state.

The money will shore up an industry that came close to collapse during the pandemic, with the loss of nearly 150 residential treatment slots for adults and adolescents.

“These resources are intended to provide immediate support to behavioral health workers and give programs a sustainable base of funding they can count on to make behavioral health treatment more accessible and equitable in Oregon,” said Steve Allen, behavioral health director at the Oregon Health Authority.

One of the biggest problems behavioral health providers have faced for decades is low payments from Medicaid, they say. Providers rely on these payments as part of their income to pay staff and keep the lights on. 

The health authority raised Medicaid rates in January, and now it plans to spend another $155 million to increase them again, starting in July. Tim Heider, a spokesman for the health authority, said it hopes to adopt an increase of about 30% for some mental health services. Payments for intensive children’s services would jump 36% and the outpatient mental health rate would rise by about 40%. 

As an example, the rate for peer services – given by people who’ve had mental health or addiction problems – would rise from $17.70 to $24.78 an hour, according to Dave Baden, the health authority’s chief financial officer.

There’s only one caveat: The state needs approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The federal government pays about two-thirds of Medicaid, and states pay the rest.

Providers welcomed the increases, but they said they want to see how much rates go up and whether that’s enough to put them on secure footing before applauding. Providers of treatment for substance use disorder say they could use a big boost.

“The (addiction treatment) programs have historically been paid at significantly lower rates than mental health programs,” said Erica Fuller, executive director of Rimrock Trails, a residential addiction treatment center in Prineville. “Rates easily need to be doubled.”

Rimrock Trails will get nearly $600,000 from a separate state program to develop the industry’s work force. Rimrock is among 159 providers approved for funding out of the new $132 million appropriation. The median grant is $334,000. The health authority has allocated more than $1 million to more than 33 providers. The top 10 are:

  • Cascadia Health $7,220,127
  • Trillium Family Services $5,914,703
  • Lifeworks NW $5,452,727
  • Native American Rehabilitation of the Northwest, Inc. $4,939,240
  • Options for Southern Oregon $4,229,628
  • Central City Concern $3,784,408
  • Yamhill County Health and Human Services $3,530,911
  • Deschutes County Health Services $3,466,093
  • Rogue Community Health $2,914,402
  • Northwest Human Services $2,578,560

Another $100 million will be distributed this summer through counties to expand residential treatment and shelters and other housing. Oregon lacks a robust continuum of care system,  everything from intense residential care to outpatient counseling and peer services. 

Hundreds of patients at the Oregon State Hospital, for example, have ended up waiting to get discharged because they had nowhere to go in the community to receive outpatient services.

The state also award $100 million in grants to build residential treatment facilities for people with serious and persistent mental illness. This infusion of cash coincides with grants by a state oversight committee to providers of substance use treatment. The state is creating a Behavioral Health Resource Network in each county as part of Measure 110, passed by voters in November 2020. It decriminalized personal possession of drugs and allocated $150 million a year from marijuana taxes to bolster prevention, treatment and recovery for people with addiction problems. 

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years.