Umpqua Health, the parent company of Umpqua Health Alliance, one of Oregon’s 16 coordinated care organizations, has donated $150,000 to the Douglas County Mental Health Court to ensure the continuation of a program for non-violent offenders with mental illness.
The mental health court is designed to keep people out of jail, that are in need of mental health services, and have committed a crime. Instead, it gets them into a diversion program that provides access to critical behavioral health services.
Douglas County District Attorney Rick Wesenberg said the donation will allow the program to continue.
“That contribution allows us to essentially provide a prosecutor for the program and the support that it requires,” Wesenberg said. “All of the participants in the mental health courts are defendants that are charged with various crimes, so it allows us to continue, by funding those services.”
The Mental Health Court was established in 2014, and is a five-phase program that requires at least 18 months of participation. At the end of phase five, participants will have missed no court dates, maintained sobriety, paid supervision and restitution fees, and secured adequate housing. They will be medically compliant, and will have complied fully with a customized treatment plan for at least six consecutive months.
Graduates of the program avoid jail time and the related charges are expunged from their criminal record. The court also eases the burden on an already overloaded criminal justice system by removing non-violent offenders from the often lengthy and costly judicial process.
Douglas County Commissioner Tim Freeman, who is the liaison to the district attorney’s office is known as a major supporter of the mental health court. He said the evidence shows that the mental health court works.
“It allows people that want to receive mental health services to avoid incarceration and be held accountable by the court, and to receive the type of treatment they need to get better,” Freeman said.
He said it can save the county and state a lot of money.
“It absolutely lowers costs,” he said. “I’m feeling very positive about this next year. I think the entire package that’s in place right now is going to be very successful.”
In the past 24 months, the Roseburg-based health care organization has increased the number of its contracted behavioral health professionals by 38 percent, which has resulted in greater access to programs and services for Douglas County residents.
“There was a significant need for supporting the mental health court,” said Dr. Bruce Croffy, chief medical officer at Umpqua Health. “I think this will give us yet another way of engaging our members affected by serious and persistent mental illness.”
Croffy said it’s always been a problem with engaging their membership. They are hard to get in touch with, and the last thing he wants to see is for them to be incarcerated.
Jail, he said, is the wrong place for someone suffering from alcohol addiction, drug addiction or serious mental illness.
Wesenberg said the mental health court gives people a chance to not just repair their criminal records, but to repair their lives by providing them access to behavioral health services that historically have been difficult to find.
“I am extremely grateful for their contribution,” Wesenberg said.
County commissioners wrote a letter to Umpqua Health thanking them for keeping the program alive.
In the letter it said “the continuation of Douglas County Mental Health Court is a community asset that is essential in the health and vitality of Douglas County.”