Mental health care reform is a hot button issue in Oregon. In 2006, federal officials determined that patient conditions at the state mental hospital were in violation of patients’ rights. A 2012 federal Justice Department investigation into the Portland Police Bureau found an “absence of a comprehensive community mental health infrastructure.”
Oregon officials have scrambled to respond. In 2007, the Oregon Legislature authorized $458.1 million in funding to replace the existing state hospital with two new ones: a 620-bed facility in Salem and a smaller facility in Junction City. Construction for the Salem hospital began in July 2008. Construction for the Junction City state hospital had a rocky start.
But the question on patient advocates’ minds is whether or not throwing money at new hospitals will actually help solve the problems. This will be one of several important questions likely to be raised this Tuesday, during a free public forum on mental health. The forum is presented by the Lane County Mental Health Consumer / Survivor Advisory Council (a council of mental health groups and advocates) and will take place at the Lane County Behavioral Health Building in Eugene.
The featured speaker at this forum is State Representative Val Hoyle. Hoyle is a member of the Oregon House of Representatives in District 14, where she represents the areas of West Eugene, Junction City, Cheshire, and Alvadore. Hoyle has a long history of community advocacy. She has worked with the education advocacy group Stand for Children as well as the 100% Access Initiative for United Way of Lane County, an initiative to develop better health care options.
Hoyle brings this sense of advocacy to her job as an Oregon Representative. As she serves on the House Health Care Committee and previously served on the Governor’s Health Care Transformation and the Senate Health Care Reform Committee, she is an important voice in Oregon’s dialogue about how to reform health care.
David W. Oaks, Executive Director of MindFreedom International and a psychiatric survivor human rights activist since 1976, explained the importance of Hoyle addressing the Lane County Mental Health Consumer / Survivor Advisory Council:
“Our meeting is a way for our community and Rep. Hoyle to begin to get to know one another. Rep. Hoyle has shown a major interest in mental health, and is on committees in the legislature directly impacting not just mental health, but the whole health care transformation.”
Hoyle certainly does hope for transformation. Regarding her upcoming talk, Hoyle says that it,
“will focus on behavioral health and what the health transformation process will mean for the treatment of behavioral health. I hope we can address both the potential problems and also what our opportunities will be as we integrate our behavioral and physical healthcare systems.”
For Hoyle, looking at ways to dramatically change and improve how Oregon deals with mental health care is fundamental to her job as a Representative. This is especially the case since she represents Junction City, where the new psychiatric hospital will be built.
“Mental health factors into my role as a Representative fairly significantly. One reason for this is that the Junction City Psychiatric Hospital will be built in Junction City, and I’ve been a leading proponent of that.”
While Hoyle is noted for her mental health activism, the specific point of the Junction City hospital is a controversial one. Oaks says,
“We do have some differences of opinion, such as Rep. Hoyle supports a new psychiatric institution in Junction City and MindFreedom does not.”
But Oaks also made sure to state that this difference of opinion need not mean that productive advances and discussions cannot take place. He states,
“I think we may have a shared passion in supporting mental health peer support, and in finding other humane, proven alternatives to the over-drugging going on through much the mental health system.”
On that point Oaks and Hoyle are in complete agreement. In fact, that is a point that many patient advocates will make — that if you can prevent the situations that create the necessity of pharmaceutical interventions, you can reduce costs. This is one change that Hoyle believes strongly in:
“We need to make greater investments in treatment for people before they are in crises or have a psychotic break, which means investments in intervention and community based services. This will not only reduce our health care costs, but will reduce our public safety budget as well. Unfortunately, our public safety resources are being used to jail people who are mentally ill, which is putting stress on both the public safety system and the healthcare systems. When people are in crisis, it costs more to treat them, but when we can treat people in a community based settings and ensure they receive the appropriate care they need, we can reduce the overall costs.”
In today’s economy, it makes sense — both politically and economically — to find ways to reduce the cost of health care, especially mental health care. But for Hoyle, this is not just business as usual. For Hoyle, mental health care is a passion, a passion that she hopes to share not only at the upcoming forum but in her work as a Representative.
“I don’t think that everyone understands mental illness and I don’t think we have focused enough attention on these issues. There have been champions for mental health care in the Legislature, like Senate President Peter Courtney, who has been a strong advocate. Unfortunately, it is an issue that has a history of falling off the political radar. We have champions, I consider myself one, but we have a long way to go.”
It is also personal for Hoyle, a labor of love — something she can believe in because she has seen positive change happen for someone she cares about:
“Part of what drives me is that I have a brother who is schizophrenic and with appropriate treatment and access to mental health care he is able to lead a full life.”
State Representative Val Hoyle will be presenting Tuesday, September 25, 2012, from 1-3 pm. The presentation is organized by the Lane County Mental Health Consumer / Survivor Advisory Council and is free and open to the public. It will take place at the Lane County Behavioral Health Building located at 2411 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Meeting Room 198, Eugene, Oregon 97401. A free light lunch is served at the start of this public meeting. After a brief presentation there will be a moderated discussion about important mental health issues in Lane County.