Oregon Public Broadcasting

Mental Health Bills Head To Oregon Governor For Signature

A pair of bills aimed at helping people struggling with mental health have passed out of the Oregon Senate.

House Bill 3090 would make hospital emergency room employees draw up discharge plans for mental health patients, even if they haven’t been admitted. And House Bill 3091 would force health insurance companies to cover behavioral health checks.

Kevin Fitts, an advocate who’s suffered dozens of mental health crises said it’s not unusual to spend hours being assessed in the ER, only to be released without treatment or follow up.

Fitts remembers leaving one hospital after being in the psych ward for four days.

“I was not connected to services… And I did not have a case manager or a skills trainer or peer specialist to help me navigate any of these," he said. 

"It was just, ‘Okay, thank you. You’re no longer needed to stay in the hospital and here’s your bus ticket and be on your way.’ And that is very challenging.”

The bills now go to Gov. Kate Brown who is expected to sign both.

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Activists Want Oregon To Cover Medical Costs Of Undocumented Children

Supporters of a proposal to cover the medical costs of all Oregon children rallied at the state Capitol on Friday.

A pair of bills under consideration in Salem would extend Oregon Health Plan coverage to include kids who are in the country illegally.


Democratic Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon's district includes Woodburn. She told the crowd the proposal would help some of the most vulnerable people she represents.

"I want to ensure that every child in my district, every child in the state, should have access to health care coverage," she said. "Families should not have to choose between taking their child to the doctor and paying bills."

According to the Oregon Health Authority, the proposal would cost nearly $27 million a year. The expansion would benefit roughly 15,000 children who are living in Oregon, but are not legal residents.

Both of the bills were given initial approval by legislative policy committees. They each await further action in the Legislature's budget-writing committee.

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Oregon Transgender Identity Document Bill On Way To Governor's Desk

Oregon lawmakers have signed off on a bill that would make it easier for transgender people to change their identity on state government documents like a drivers license or birth certificate.


The Senate voted 23-6 Wednesday to approve the bill, which now heads to Gov. Kate Brown's desk.

Sen. Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, said the bill would remove unnecessary barriers for transgender people.

"It's been a passion of mine to treat all people the way they feel they need to be treated. It's not mine to make that decision for them," he said. "And so this bill is one of those things that starts allowing people to make some of those choices in our state."

The current process to change gender identity on government documents involves a court hearing and posting a notice in a public place. Supporters of the bill say the new process will be less intimidating. They say having accurate documents helps transgender people get a job, housing or access medical care.

"Many transgender Oregonians fear being publicly outed by having sensitive medical and personal information disclosed in open court and name changes posted on a public bulletin board,” said Nancy Haque, co-executive director of Basic Rights Oregon.

Only one Senator spoke against the measure during a brief floor debate.

Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, said amending a birth certificate akin to "going back in time and changing an event that happened in history."

He said it reminded him of George Orwell's novel "1984."

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Oregon's Senate President Says Lawmakers Should Support Mental Health Investments

As Oregon lawmakers grapple with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, even some legislative leaders are having trouble gaining traction for their priorities.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, made the case Monday for keeping mental health programs off the chopping block in the upcoming spending plan.

"There are cuts and there are cuts," Courtney said to reporters in his state Capitol office. "I think mental health is taking a disproportionate amount of cuts. And there are certain things you can't cut as much as others."

Courtney says he was especially angry about proposals to close a state-run psychiatric hospital in Junction City. That plan was contained in cost-cutting proposals from both Gov. Kate Brown and legislative budget writers.

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Oregon Health Clinic Grows Despite Concerns Over Obamacare Repeal

Many health care organizations are putting plans on hold as they wait to see what happens with the Affordable Care Act.

But one Oregon clinic is expanding anyway.

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health is a series of 16 clinics dotted around Washington and Yamhill Counties. They serve Medicaid patients, undocumented people who don’t have health insurance, and thousands of children.

Midwife and lead clinician for the new women’s clinic, Monica Arce, said pregnant patients are currently seen along with everyone else. But next week they’ll have their own, new women's clinic.

“By pulling the prenatal care out of primary care, we’re able to open up a little bit more space to see more patients in primary care and concentrate more on the care of the women while they’re pregnant,” she said.

Arce says Virginia Garcia has been growing since it started in a three car garage in Cornelius in 1975, regardless of the level of support from any presidential administration.

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OHA Concerned About Syphilis Epidemic In Oregon

Oregon is in the midst of a syphilis epidemic according to the Oregon Health Authority. Cases of the disease have increased 2,000 percent over the last decade.

Back in 2007, syphilis had all but been eradicated in Oregon. There were just 26 cases.

Last year, there were close to 570.

Sean Shaffer with the OHA's Public Health Division said he’s very concerned.

“It is a big problem and in order for us to interrupt it, we really need the help of the healthcare providers to start asking their patients about some pretty direct questions" about their sex lives and their partners he said. "You know, whether they happen to have a history of methamphetamine use. Not for punishment or for stigma, but to make sure they get the appropriate health care.”

Doctors are testing some people multiple times — for example, men who have sex with men, and people who’ve previously contracted a sexually transmitted disease.

Oregon ranks eighth in the nation for the prevalence of syphilis.

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Oregon Wants Doctors To Do Full Patient Evaluation Before Recommending Medical Marijuana

The State of Oregon wants doctors to conduct a full patient evaluation when recommending medical marijuana.

The Oregon Health Authority is asking doctors to obtain a comprehensive medical history for patients, perform a complete physical, discuss the risks of cannabis and maintain detailed records.

Josh Taylor with the Oregon Cannabis Association thinks a full exam is a fair requirement, but he’s worried patients might have to pay another couple of hundred dollars to get their treatment.

“They’re already being hit with fees from the OHA to register their card. They’re already paying fees to see a doctor," he said. "It just doesn’t seem fair to pile on any additional fees for the patient."

The new guidelines strongly oppose smoking as a way to use marijuana.

The OHA also wants doctors to recommend the lowest possible dose to achieve treatment goals.

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