State leaders looking to change mental health care system

SOUTHERN OREGON, —Oregon’s process to improve the mental health care system for people who deny treatment, could soon see changes. A group of Oregon leaders are working to improve state standards for civil commitment and forced mental health care, even when people don’t want the help.

The group dubbed “Commitment to Change Workgroup” ranges from judges to doctors, to mental health experts. A workgroup is trying to change how the state provides mental healthcare. Workgroup member and Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Nan Waller, says the group plans to re-evaluate the entire state statute to create systemic change in how Oregon provides mental healthcare.

“I think (we’re doing this) because we are seeing so many people who are struggling. We see that on the streets, and we know it’s covered by the press,” said Waller.

The issue stems from people who don’t meet the requirements for involuntary care but aren’t able to care for themselves on their own. The Oregon Health Authority defines civil commitment as a process in which a judge decides whether a person alleged to be mentally ill should be required to accept mental health treatment. Oregon’s threshold for civil commitment requires that an individual be perceived as a serious threat to themselves or others because of their mental illness.

“People have a lot of personal experience with it. It seemed like the right time for the judicial branch to step up and say we will try to convene a group that hopefully can come up with some agreements in better ways of doing this,” said Waller.

Taji Allen with Jackson County Mental Heath says the system has its pros and cons.

“The pros are that people have the ability to live their life and the ability to exercise their civil liberties and they are able to have self-determination.”

But it also comes with some harm.

“Sometimes there’s a really big gap between a person being able to engage in treatment or not and be safe and then crossing this threshold into this danger zone, this area we talked about is very hard for families and whether or not the person in question with the mental illness has the wherewithal and competency to know that that area is at stake, that’s what a lot of people are trying to solve,” said Allen.

Allen says she’s in support of taking another look at Oregon’s laws to create a bigger safety net around people.  The workgroup will meet every week for the next two years to look at crafting changes to the Oregon standards for civil commitment and forced mental health care.

“Trying to do a little bit of change along the way, we wanna take a look at the whole system because our concern is that small changes are not going to end up with the results the community and individuals who have serious mental illness need,” said Waller.

The workgroup plans to create a report of recommendations for the state legislature to review and potentially enact in 2025. Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler is among those who support the workgroup’s efforts.

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Jenna King is the 6pm and 11pm anchor for NBC5 News. Jenna is a Burbank, CA native. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in Sports Business. During her time at Oregon she was part of the student-run television station, Duck TV. She also grew her passion for sports through her internship with the PAC 12 Network. When Jenna is not in the newsroom you can find her rooting for her hometown Dodgers, exploring the outdoors or binging on the latest Netflix release.
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