By editorial board • 

County can't stand more delay in meeting mental health need

It only takes three simple facts to frame the latest disconnect in  beleaguered Yamhill County, which has become notorious for its often ideologically driven failures and lapses in recent years.

No. 1: Thanks to disheartening pay levels, crushing caseloads and pitiful morale, the county’s Health and Human Services Department has 27 openings posted, compared to just one or two for most other departments. Finding better work widely available elsewhere, frontline workers are departing in droves, leaving mental health clients desperately short of badly needed help. 

No. 2: Recognizing delivery of behavioral health services was coming under critical stress in counties around the state, the 2022 Oregon Legislature allocated $200 million in raises, signing bonuses and retention bonuses, some $3.5 million of it earmarked for Yamhill County, and the governor signed off on it more than five months ago.

No. 3: According to Health and Human Services employee Tiffany Cogswell, surrounding counties have distributed the funds they got through the relief package, leaving Yamhill alone in its inaction. But only one of the county’s three commissioners, lame duck Casey Kulla, expressed public concern when union leaders mounted a full-court press on the issue earlier this month.

County Administrator Ken Huffer blamed the months-long delay on “careful planning” requiring “many discussions in determining viable options.” He said the state provided “no clear plan or direction for how the funds would be used or how the program would be rolled out,” and working out the details took time.

That may well be, but there is no denying the urgency of the situation. And though the county does finally seem to be publicly engaging the issue, we don’t yet have any clear timeline for final action and effective implementation.  

The plain truth is, Yamhill County can’t afford to lose core counselors to neighboring counties, particularly if they use more swiftly allocated state recruitment bonuses as a lure. 

Kulla put it this way: “Retaining staff is an urgent and life-and-death matter. Our counselors work with people in crisis every day, and the loss of a county counselor is devastating to their clients, who get added to another already overworked counselor.”

That was echoed repeatedly by clients posting in a local community discussion group on Facebook.

One led off by asking, “Why are hundreds of Yamhill County residents going untreated or undertreated when the money to hire and retain behavior healthcare staff has already been awarded ... by the Oregon Health Authority?”

Lamenting, “(That) means help for people like me is nonexistent,” the poster implored commissioners to “put the money where it belongs,” “quit making my healthcare a political agenda” and “put the people in this county first.”

Another addressed a plea to Commissioner Mary Starrett, the board’s longtime Health and Human Services liaison, asking, “Why aren’t you doing anything to help us?” The poster closed, “Please listen to us.”

Is the lack of local resolution simply a matter of a cautious and deliberate planning process?

In the interest of ensuring accountability for public officials, we would certainly like to know.

But in the interest of ensuring delivery of critical services to desperate clients, the immediate priority must go to freeing the funds. Assessing why that took so long can wait.

Comments

Lizzy

Sounds like dereliction of duty. It shouldn't take that much time to put the options together after survey and other data gathering and make a decision. Then there's attitude: it's been heard that these union employees are paid too much money. Really? Commissioners who waste time and taxpayer dollars on peripheral issues just don't have their priorities straight.