Oregon got both some good news and a pat on the back when the federal government recently announced the state is one of a handful chosen for a pilot program to provide better behavioral health care in areas that are currently under-served.

The two-year Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic project is part of a bigger effort to coordinate behavioral health care with other health care. It aims to improve access to high-quality care for people with mental health and substance abuse issues in both rural and urban areas through community clinics — and make this part of their overall health care.

Lane County is one of 14 counties in Oregon that will take part in the pilot project, with a certified clinic operated by PeaceHealth.

One of the reasons Oregon was one of only eight states chosen, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is that the state and its community clinics have done “an incredible job in paving the way for the demonstration program.”

A program such as this is badly needed, not just in Oregon but across the country. Health care professionals are well aware that physical health cannot be divorced from mental health and substance abuse issues. It’s difficult, or sometimes impossible, to adequately treat physical health problems while ignoring the fact that the person also has substance abuse or mental health problems that can affect or impair treatment of the physical ones.

The Oregon clinic will serve adults with serious mental illnesses, children with serious emotional disturbances, and those with long-term and serious substance use disorders, as well as others with mental illness and substance use disorders.

The mental health care provided by the community clinics in the pilot project will include a broad range of services, including recovery support, that should contribute to long-term solutions.

This kind of coordinated approach has long been needed, and Oregon is fortunate to be one of eight states chosen from the 24 that began the process in 2015. Of the original 24 states that started the process, 19 submitted applications to participate in the demonstration program; eight were chosen.

These final eight will provide data to Health and Human Services, which will evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot projects in late 2017. As part of the project, Oregon’s clinics will be reimbursed at a fixed daily rate for all services provided to Oregon Health Plan beneficiaries.

Health care professionals know that you need to treat the whole person and not just one symptom or ailment. But government has been slow to catch up.

This pilot program, in addition to providing an immediate benefit to Oregon in the form of improved health care, helps pave the way for improved health care nationwide. Oregon is fortunate to be among the leaders.

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