'Do we really have to do this again?'
La Clinica and Rogue Community Health officials used an audience with U.S. Rep. Greg Walden Friday to press the congressman for stabilization and expansion of funding for key substance abuse and mental health services.
Walden spent time Friday visiting a drug court graduation in Josephine County before heading to La Clinica to hear from care providers about their perspective on the ongoing battle against drug addiction.
Lingering uncertainty around important federal grants, especially the Community Health Center Fund, leaves programs, including many of the health centers’ behavioral health supports, in limbo.
“It kind of puts us into a position where we almost have to take our eyes off of what we’re doing to try and come back and say, ‘Do we really need to do this again? We’re here, we’re doing the same thing,’” said William North, CEO of Rogue Community Health. “We’re not going anywhere, the need certainly isn’t going anywhere.”
The grant so far has been awarded on a two-year basis. Walden said he is pushing to change the program to a four-year program.
The fund, created by the Affordable Care Act, was set to expire at the end of September, until Congress passed a continuing resolution that circumvented a government shutdown.
Now, Congress has until Nov. 21 to work out details on budget priorities ranging well beyond health care to the U.S.-Mexico border wall and defense.
Walden described a severe lag in the progress of many appropriations bills.
“Everything’s sort of stalled,” he said. “And now with all this other chaos going on, it’s like things are just sort of languishing.”
The community health officials, however, said the needs for services are only growing, and added uncertainty of funding makes it hard to plan long-term projects, such as those laid out in the three-year Community Health Improvement Plan in which La Clinica is a partner.
Justin Adams, chief medical officer at La Clinica, highlighted the difficulties involved with assisting vulnerable populations who are in need of addiction treatment, especially homeless people.
Shortages of beds at inpatient treatment centers mean that people have to wait weeks or months to receive intensive residential services, Adams said. Patients are instructed to call every day for as long as three months to try to find their way into a treatment center.
“(That’s) not a realistic scenario,” he said.
Dan Weiner, chief medical officer at Rogue Community Health, said he’s heard chatter from his patients that one way to get into treatment faster is to get arrested and be referred into treatment through the criminal justice system.
That’s far from the most cost-effective method.
“Finding that sort of shortcut prior to incarceration that can get them the treatment that they need would actually probably save quite a bit of money,” Weiner said.
Officials also highlighted initiatives through which they have succeeded in bringing down the costs to the public through collaborative means. Jillian Robinette, practice manager at La Clinica’s Wellness Center, described how a strong relationship with Mercy Flights helps divert patients from the emergency room if they are established patients at La Clinica.
Emergency room visits are usually the most expensive care option and may not be where a patient in crisis is best served.
Walden shared snippets of stories he heard from eight graduates from Josephine County Drug Court at the ceremony he attended earlier in the day.
“If you want to talk about an uplifting, inspiring group of people,” he said. “Their stories, oh, my gosh, some of you who live in this world know them better than I ever will.”
Walden shared his doubts, however, that the kinks in community health center funding will be worked out before the Nov. 21 budget deadline. Congress has a two-week break this month, and another next, which could add to the slow pace, he said.
“We’re making progress, but we have a lot to fix,” Walden said.