Wednesday, October 27, 2021
48.0°F

Op-Ed: It’s time to take care of mental health and addiction in Idaho

by SEN. JEFF AGENBROAD and REP. BROOKE GREEN/Special to The Press
| October 4, 2021 11:16 AM

Idahoans are tough people. We take great pride in caring for our ourselves, our families and neighbors. This spirit has served us well. However, the COVID-19 pandemic made it clear there are limitations. That is particularly true when it comes to providing mental health and substance use treatment.

Idaho, like the rest of the nation, is grappling with an overdose crisis. According to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths rates nationally increased nearly 30% between December 2019 and December 2020. Idaho was not spared, with 283 overdose deaths in 2020 alone.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that 239,000 adults in Idaho were living with a mental illness before COVID struck, and another 76,000 met the criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse. We fear those numbers have only gotten worse.

Our friends and neighbors are struggling. Idaho simply does not have enough clinics and professionals to provide the care that people need. It’s been that way for a long time, but we believe things are beginning to change.

Gov. Brad Little appointed the Idaho Behavioral Health Council and tasked the members, from all three branches of state government as well as community partners, with “developing and implementing a strategic plan designed to improve access to Idaho’s behavioral health resources and provide better outcomes for those who need services.”

To that end, the Council recently released its strategic plan, which identifies systemic challenges created by lack of access to effective behavioral healthcare, including “impact on the corrections system, the judicial system, hospitals, schools, and communities, leading to challenges such as a growing prison population, overdose deaths, and a very high suicide rate.”

Fortunately, the plan also recommends several actions that would make an enormous difference for the people of Idaho. One recommendation in particular stands out for its proven benefits.

Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) provide 24-hour crisis care and evidence-based services to anyone in need of mental health or substance use treatment services, regardless of ability to pay. Through collaborations with law enforcement and CCBHCs divert people in crisis from jails, reduce hospitalizations and emergency department visits while generating cost savings for you, the taxpayer.

CCBHCs are making a difference in more than 40 states and territories, but currently there are no CCBHCs in Idaho. It is time to change that. The Council has recommended the state explore bringing the CCBHC model to Idaho, and we couldn’t agree more.

That’s why we are urging our Congressional delegation to support the bipartisan Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act (S. 2069/H.R. 4323).

The legislation would allow Idaho or any state the opportunity to apply to participate in the CCBHC Medicaid demonstration program and it would establish a sustainable financing option to support program management. Currently, this option is limited to 10 states. The legislation would also allocate planning grants for states to prepare to participate in the CCBHC program, exactly what the Council seeks to accomplish.

While statewide participation is optimal, the legislation would authorize funding for individual provider organizations to receive CCBHC Expansion Grants via the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

It is well past time for Idaho to join and provide comprehensive mental health and substance use treatment via CCBHCs. It’s time that we make sure our friends, neighbors and family members can access the care they need, when they need it. Only then can everyone in Idaho thrive.

• • •

State Sen. Jeff Agenbroad (R), represents District 13 in the Nampa and State Rep. Brooke Green (D), represents District 18 in Boise. Both serve on the Idaho Behavioral Health Council.