The new mental health chief of Oregon, Steve Allen, has a serious job to do — fix the state’s inefficient mental health system that allowed multiple deaths.
Reports say that for the past few years, Oregon had the highest rate of individuals with mental illness; one in four residents suffers from such a problem. The mental system wasn’t working well and the US Department of Justice demanded reform for more than ten years now. The failures of the system were obvious and the fact that Oregon doesn’t perform efficiently when providing mental health treatments just made the problem worse.
Finally, the Oregon Health Authority Director, Pat Allen (not related to Steve Allen), decided to take action. In order to fix the state’s long-time problems, he hired Steve Allen, a highly-experienced health executive and consultant. Steve has a strong authority and a clear mandate to reform the state’s current mental health system.
Steve has done a lot of mental health-related work over the past years. He supervised the mental health system in Minnesota, advised several states on how to keep mentally-ill individuals out of the criminal justice system, and provided psychotherapy services to sex offenders. Though these responsibilities were serious, he felt intense energy to do something new and different — hence why he applied to run Oregon’s behavioral health system.
Steve realized that there’s a lot of pressure concerning his new job. Nevertheless, it was high time someone took the opportunity and fixed the system. He said in an interview that they simply could not fail since there were too many people depending on them.
The new mental health chief wants to start reevaluating the policies developed by the Oregon Health Authority and make recommendations to the state’s legislature related to homeless people with behavioral issues.
Back in 2018, Portland residents and policymakers noticed how homelessness directly contributed to the shortage of mental health services. According to Portland Mayor, Ted Wheeler, medical and psychiatric hospitals lack in providing complete health services. Often, they put patients back on the streets due to the shortage of affordable or transitional housing. This results in people coming back to the hospital with more severe mental health issues. At times, some of them end up dead or inflict violence on the streets.
Homelessness is just one part of the large-scale mental health problem; the system itself should be more efficient and smoother. Allen seemed to realize this as well and he said that one of their concrete priorities was staffing. He ordered the newly formed Senate Committee on Mental Health to tackle this issue first among many others.