Mental health task force starts up

Staff writerApril 22, 2014 

A task force that is supposed to figure out how to reform the state's mental-health system started its work Tuesday.

In Washington, patients languish for days in emergency rooms waiting for treatment. Jails have become the de facto medical providers for much of the population dealing with mental illness. Gaps persist between the different ways treatment is paid for.

With prodding from the late Sen. Mike Carrell of Lakewood, the state Legislature in 2013 formed a task force to look at such issues.

A year later, lawmakers added another job to the task force's agenda: consolidating the state's system of mental health care with the one for drug and alcohol treatment and eventually with all publicly funded health care for the poor.

By Sept. 1, the task force must recommend a new map for how health-care purchasing is to be divided up by regions, the first step in a process of integration that must be finished by Jan. 1, 2020.

The 11-member Adult Behavioral Health system Task Force includes a lawmaker from each of the four legislative caucuses; three county commissioners; three representatives from Gov. Jay Inslee's administration; and one from an Indian tribe.

Lawmakers have put extra money into mental health the past two years. But don't think the problem is fixed, said one task force member, Social and Health Services Secretary Kevin Quigley.

"Even with the investment we’ve made, we’re not in front of this problem by any stretch," he said.

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