County OKs OHA grant for counseling programs

The Linn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 16, accepted a $226,089 grant from the Oregon Health Authority to provide local counseling programs for persons with mental illness who have been charged with a crime.

County Public Health Director Todd Noble said the funds reflect the state’s efforts to move such programs to local jurisdictions. The funds are part of a $1.35 billion package approved by the State Legislature in 2021 targeting behavioral health issues. They’re part of an “Aid and Assist” category intended to provide treatment, housing and other support for people who are “not competent to face a criminal proceeding due to the severity of their mental health issue.”

Commissioners Roger Nyquist, Sherrie Sprenger and Will Tucker agreed that such programs have seen major shifts since the state began closing mental health hospitals statewide and reducing the number of in-patient beds. Nyquist said former Public Health Director Frank Moore predicted that counties would see greater demands for services 15 years ago as closures began.

“The state reduced the number of hospital beds and has shifted that burden to local governments,” Nyquist said. “We will do the best we can with what we have.”

Nyquist expressed disappointment at the lack of “honest public conversation about how we got to this point,” adding that Linn County wouldn’t be alone in feeling its effects.

“It’s not just us, it’s everywhere,” he said. “We need to press policy makers and let them know what we think is needed.”

Noble called it, “definitely challenging for any community. The state has tried to provide services in a hospital setting and failed. This is an OHA decision.”

Commissioner Tucker felt that the county was caught “between a rock and a hard place.”

“We no longer have the hospitals for people to go to,” he said. “We will need more staff to help out. We didn’t ask for this.”

Tucker compared this to more “unfunded mandates”, an issue over which the county sued the state several years ago.

He said the state’s move to move some drug use crimes from felonies to misdemeanors has basically legalized those drugs, resulting in increased crime and mental-health issues in counties.

In other business, the commissioners:

♦ Discussed the upcoming drawdown of Green Peter Reservoir to facilitate salmon planting above the dam per a federal lawsuit decision. The commissioners agreed that the Corps of Engineers should hold public forums in the Sweet Home area about this project. (The drawdown has since been delayed, likely until next fall. See our story in the Aug. 24 issue.)

♦ Learned that the county recorded 52 births (23 girls and 29 boys) and 105 deaths in July, according to Dr. William Muth, Linn County Health Officer.

Smoking tobacco contributed to about 20% of the deaths. There was discussion about several residents who had become sick after either handling chicken or consuming improperly cooked chicken.

Muth said proper hand washing is important after handling poultry and chicken should be cooked to at least 165 degrees internal temperature. He added there have been no reported cases of monkeypox in Linn County so far.

♦ Were informed by Environmental Health Manager Shane Sanderson that his staff is making more in-person visits to food-handling establishments. Twenty inspections took place at brick-and-mortar restaurants, 27 temporary restaurants and eight benevolent operations.

♦ Appointed Bill Kesselring to the Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

♦ Sold two small pieces of property at a sealed-bid auction. One piece, about one-third of an acre near Scio, was sold for $1,000 to Kenneth and Rhonda Silveira. The other piece in Brownsville – a fence line – was sold for $1 plus recording fees to Kristin and Nathan Micklewright.

♦ Approved an agreement with the University of Oklahoma to provide training for students in their Master of Social Work program.

♦ Approved a contract for $758,386 with Bent LLC for the Folsom Bridge replacement project.

♦ Approved the following First-Time Youth Wage Agreements: Horner Enterprises, O & M Tire Shop, Kirk Century Farms, Miller Grass Seed and Wirth Firms.

– Alex Paul, Linn County Communications Officer