PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A new state audit says Oregon is failing to make sure vulnerable children and families are receiving needed mental health care through the Oregon Health Plan, even as taxpayers give millions of dollars in performance bonuses to healthcare administration companies.
Despite the importance of mental health services, auditors in the report released this week say state health leaders failed for ten years — under both Gov. Kate Brown and Gov. John Kitzhaber — to set a consistent plan or vision for providing these services, resulting in “system disarray.”
The auditors examined how the state is serving all children and families on Oregon’s version of the Medicaid program, and also looked specifically at the experiences of children in foster care, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.
Oregon child welfare officials have in recent years said they were forced to temporarily house children in state care at government offices, hotels and institutional settings such as converted juvenile jails, largely because many children had behavior health needs beyond what most foster parents could handle. Advocates for children say improved mental health care and other services could allow more children to return home sooner or live in a more homelike setting with foster parents.
Auditors described how one 9-year-old boy stayed in a hotel for over 100 days while waiting for recommended intensive mental health services.
He was “treated in the emergency department several times, and did not have regular access to needed services and supports,” auditors wrote. Due to a variety of delays, the boy never received residential care that a child psychiatrist said he needed.
State Behavioral Health Director Steve Allen agreed with all the auditors’ recommendations.
“This audit recognizes a long-standing challenge within the behavioral health system, which is lack of timely, complete and accurate data,” Allen wrote. “There are legitimate systemic reasons why this is the situation, and (Oregon Health Authority) continues to work on developing the ability to find cost-effective levers that result in improvements.”