The White Bird Clinic is expanding its mental health counseling department after years of pandemic made the need for these services even more urgent.
“Any of us readers reading these words, you’ve had a pretty tough two or three years,” said Chris Hecht, executive coordinator at White Bird Clinic. “We all have.”
But for those with less support, resources and income, the added stressors made it even harder to cope, Hecht said.
The White Bird Clinic is responding to the need by hiring three new mental health clinicians on staff, which will create jobs for about 40 new clients. In the spring, counseling services will move from 341 E. 12th to 1910 Pearl St., giving counselors more space to work. For now, all mental health consultations are conducted remotely via Telehealth.
The new clinicians’ areas of interest and expertise include working with the LGBTQ+ community, helping those struggling with addictions, crisis intervention, and therapeutic treatment services for living organ donor candidates, recipients, and their families.
The new space will be designed to try to convey a sense of calm, grounding and confidence through aspects such as color, light and decor, Hecht said. The goal of its trauma-informed design is to make sure that people receiving care receive it in a way that recognizes past traumatic interactions with authority, family, or anything else that makes accessing care more difficult.
“It’s one of the things we understand a lot better now than we did even five years ago,” Hecht said. “The way a space is designed, even just how it’s decorated, can be either a grounding, calming and soothing thing, or the opposite.”
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Across the county, demand for counseling services has grown under pressure over the past few years. A 2021 American Psychological Association survey found that many psychologists reported an increase in demand for treatment for anxiety and depression, as well as increased caseloads, longer waiting lists and little capacity for new patients. Care can already be hard to find before the pandemic. In 2018-2019, 8.9 percent of Oregon adults, 291,000 people, reported unmet need for mental health treatment in the past year, higher than the U.S. rate of 6.2 percent, according to an analysis by Kaiser Family Foundation.
Oregon Health Plan or Medicare patients often have even fewer services available and more barriers along the way. Among Oregon adults who reported an unmet need for mental health treatment in the past year, 38.2 percent did not receive care because of cost, according to KFF.
“We already had a situation that made it difficult to get Medicare, Medicaid, and then this happened,” Hecht said. “And what we saw was an increase in the already too long waiting list and quite a few providers saying, ‘We’re not going to add to our waiting list,’ and or ‘We’re not going to accept any more new OHP patients.’ “
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White Bird serves OHP adults, but due to increased patient volume, it may take several weeks before a consultation appointment is scheduled.
Hecht hopes the expansion will get more people the help they need.
“We identified this need and said we need to do something and we need to do it as quickly as possible,” Hecht said.
White Bird Clinic invites anyone 16 and older to visit the White Bird website and complete the mental health screening form to request an appointment at https://whitebirdclinic.org/counseling.
Contact reporter Tatiana Parafyniuk-Talesnik at [email protected] or 541-521-7512 and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT.