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Aug. 9, 2022

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Mental health matters, Sen. Patty Murray says during tour of Family Solutions nonprofit

Senator visits Vancouver agency that will benefit from federal funding

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
7 Photos
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, from left, tours Family Solutions, a Vancouver mental health agency, with Executive Director Lisa Carpenter, state Sen. Annette Cleveland and others Wednesday morning. Cleveland is the agency's development director. Murray announced that she was working toward securing $800,000 in federal funding through congressionally directed spending for the facility's basement expansion.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, from left, tours Family Solutions, a Vancouver mental health agency, with Executive Director Lisa Carpenter, state Sen. Annette Cleveland and others Wednesday morning. Cleveland is the agency's development director. Murray announced that she was working toward securing $800,000 in federal funding through congressionally directed spending for the facility's basement expansion. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Local providers may see an increase of crucial funding to address youth mental health and substance use disorders.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray said Wednesday that she is working toward securing $800,000 in federal funding for a basement expansion at Family Solutions, a private nonprofit mental health agency in Vancouver.

“I think we all recognize (mental health) is something that we all have to be a part of — federal, state, local — everybody has to be a part of this,” Murray said.

The senator, who was visiting Vancouver to tour Family Solutions and participate in a roundtable discussion with the agency’s staff, addressed how the need for mental health care has swelled in the past few years.

Isolation, sometimes in tandem with the loss of a family member during the pandemic, has led to a multitude of mental health challenges and increases in substance use, according to the Democratic senator. She said the problem is worsened by a lack of trained professionals who can address the need, which makes increased funding for the mental health workforce vital.

Family Solutions assists around 1,750 youth and their families annually, a drop from its normal capacity due to a reduction in its workers, said Lisa Carpenter, executive director of the agency. Clients they help only represent a fraction of the youth who need mental health services.

“The problem has increased since COVID,” Carpenter said. “We had more human resources prior to the pandemic, so now we are working to rebuild and adapt so we can serve more clients and get them connected with other services.”

As mental health demands surged during the pandemic, it strained behavioral health professionals who experienced burnout, leading to a workforce crisis, said Theresa Ortiz, Vancouver-Salmon Creek Catholic Community Services site director.

“The struggle to recruit and retain an adequate amount of behavioral health staff has resulted in youth insured by Medicaid waiting for treatment, a lack of options or delays in transition to another provider and level of care,” she said.

Addressing mental health disorders requires more than just increasing services, since several variables are intertwined in its root cause, said Christine Smith, a psychiatric nurse practitioner at Family Solutions.

“In psychiatry, we talk a lot about trauma being the great gateway drug,” she said. “When we have people struggling with poverty, homelessness, addiction and severe mental illness, kids growing up … with those things leads them to needing our services.”

Tracey Arney, Family Solutions clinical director, said a broader array of treatment options and greater access to services are central to addressing the mental health crisis. The unmet demand for mental health care is greater than physical care, she said, referencing a National Council for Mental Wellbeing survey.

Annette Cleveland, Family Solutions development director, said the facility’s expansion will aid in bolstering mental health services beyond the pandemic, as well as increase its ability to collaborate with other local providers. Cleveland also represents Vancouver’s 49th District in the state Senate.

Murray secured $116 million in funding for local projects across Washington as a part of a bipartisan funding package passed in March. Community-led efforts that receive funding cover needs in multiple areas, such as health care, climate change and affordable housing.

Deb Drandoff, director of youth services at Educational Service District 112, said federal funding contributed to bringing trained therapists into schools, removing accessibility barriers that are typically common in rural communities. However, insurance coverage poses availability issues for students who may not qualify for care.

Congressionally directed spending, also known as earmarks, arrived with the 2022 appropriations bill after a decadelong prohibition. It was capped at 1 percent of total discretionary spending for the fiscal year, which will potentially generate about $15 billion.

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