New regional mental health support network opens next week

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Southwest Washington Behavioral Health Regional Support Network will open Oct. 1.

The network, prompted by state cuts for mental health services, consolidates Clark and Cowlitz counties' regional support networks. And residents of Skamania County, which did not have a regional support network, will now be able to travel to Vancouver for services instead of Yakima or Spokane.

The move comes after the state told counties to whittle down 13 regional support networks to six.

The Department of Social and Health Services contracts with the networks to oversee delivery of mental health services for low-income adults and children; approximately 70,000 adults and children in Clark County are eligible for services.

Mental health service providers such as Columbia River Mental Health, Lifeline and Community Services NW will keep their contracts, and there is likely to be a need for expansion of services,

The new entity will rent space at the Center for Community Health, where county employees in Clark's regional service network currently work.

Employees with Clark and Cowlitz support networks had to apply for jobs with the new entity, which will save on administrative costs. Instead of multiple administrators, clinical directors and compliance monitors, who ensure Medicaid dollars are being spent properly, the new regional support network will have one of each.

Directors name CEO

On Tuesday, the board of directors of the new entity named Connie Mom-Chhing as chief executive officer following a national search, said Geoff Knapp, spokesman for the county's Department of Community Services. The board of directors includes Clark County Commissioner Marc Boldt, Cowlitz County Commissioner George Raiter and Skamania County Commissioner Paul Pearce.

Mom-Chhing has been the administrator of Clark's regional service network since 2008.

Another advantage of the merger, Knapp said, will be effectively erasing the county borders for patients.

For example, if crisis beds are filled in Clark County, a bed may be available in Cowlitz County for a Vancouver resident.

The new network will have an annual budget of approximately $50 million. Most of that money comes from Medicaid, with other sources being the state's general fund, mental health block grants and local funding.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.