Having trouble finding mental health care in Washington state? Our new agency can help

Finding a therapist, getting treatment for drug use, and finding someone to turn to in a moment of crisis is no easy task. Unfortunately, many people get caught in the mental health care system before they can find what they need.

A new state-funded agency is trying to smooth the road to recovery.

The new Office of Behavioral Health Advocacy will be staffed with experienced staff, responsible for educating and counseling those in need of care, and will hold public and private health care providers accountable. For Michelle Tinkler, who leads OBHA, this mission is very personal.

Tinkler suffered from depression as a child and eventually began self-medicating with illegal drugs. It’s been over 20 years since she started recovering from methamphetamine addiction. A few years after her recovery began, she found employment in the Crisis Stabilization Department. “I felt it was a sign for me to go there,” she said. “I could really see how the magic happens. [an] As each person came in and left, it gave me a passion. ”

She eventually went back to school and earned a business degree so she could take on more managerial responsibilities. After that, she joined the nonprofit Peer Her Washington, which now runs OBHA.

As OBHA ramps up its services, The Seattle Times told Tinkler about how the new agency will help people navigate the behavioral health system. To contact the office, call 800-366-3103, email info@obhadvocacy.org, or complete the form on our website (www.obhadvocacy.org).

What is the Office of Behavioral Health Advocacy?

OBHA is an independent agency funded by the state. Tinkler said the federal government mandates that states fund mental health advocacy services, and OBHA has created a central hub for this activity.

Until recently, several separate community mental health advocacy groups sprawled across Washington. For financial and logistical reasons, these supporters have struggled to coordinate resources for people who live in one part of the state but need services in another.

The situation changed in 2021, when lawmakers signed the OBHA creation bill, which officially began operating in October. For example, if an at-risk person is detained in King County but lives in Snohomish County, an agency has the responsibility of ensuring that they receive services where they live. increase.

“When there was talk of acquisition, [services] When it was centralized and the bill passed, I was very excited because it was really needed,” Tinkler said.

The agency’s annual budget is approximately $2.5 million.

How is Peer Washington involved?

The Washington government is required to fund advocacy (aka “ombudsman”) services, but the ombuds is intended to be impartial and cannot be held accountable by the states. That’s where Pia Washington comes in.

This non-profit organization has a history of providing peer support to people living with HIV/AIDS as well as those with behavioral health concerns. When policymakers announced the creation of OBHA, Pier Washington bid for its operation and won. OBHA is now within a non-profit organization and operates independently of the state, allowing both public and private organizations to hold accountable for care.

Why do people contact OBHA?

Tinkler said one of the main reasons people seek help is because they are struggling to cut through bureaucracy and access mental health care.

However, the majority of people receive treatment against their will, but they call because they do not know the reason. Treatment facilities are required to post her OBHA contact information, and in many cases she is being held against her will and has people contacting her for advocates who can help. Calling 211 will connect you to medical and social services and may transfer you to OBHA.

“They don’t understand why they are there [getting treatment]. Or they feel they’ve been put there wrong,” she says. “They call us and express their concerns. And we just have action advocates call us and go to the facility and meet them or just talk about it on the phone. ”

Many of the callers are family members of people at risk, such as parents of adult children. Unfortunately, behavioral health advocates can’t delve into the details of what adult family members need without their permission, Tinkler said. Once the family agrees, OBHA can begin connecting the family to the service.

What is a “behavioral health advocate”?

Advocates are peers who have experienced mental illness, substance use, or both. They have already learned how to use the behavioral health system on behalf of themselves and loved ones and are trained to help those at risk find care, Tinkler said. “We will intervene and try to be a public voice so that their voices can be heard.”

Although now in management, Tinkler remains an advocate. When she started on the road to recovery, she said she never found the kind of support that is available today.

“I just want to make sure people are valued,” she said. “From my personal experience, when I didn’t know where to turn, I just felt hopeless.”

What happens when someone goes to OBHA for help?

Staff begin by collecting a number of information, such as the caller’s name, location, type of care or service sought, and concerns. “At that point, they’ll know if they just need information and resources, or if they really need us to dig deeper,” Tinkler said.

These help people navigate the complexities of the behavioral health system for free. The concerns are neither too big nor too small for OBHA, Tinkler said, regardless of whether the caller has public insurance, private insurance or no insurance. No.

“By the time people contact us, they are already in crisis…We don’t say sorry, wrong number. We will do our best to ensure that,” Tinkler added.

What happens if someone is dissatisfied with their care or denied coverage by their insurance company?

OBHA aims to be a neutral political party, but an advocate for those who wish to bring more formal lawsuits against health care providers, insurance companies, or government agencies responsible for care. Staff can also serve.

OBHA has no authority to enforce laws or regulations. However, if someone does not feel listened to by their mental health provider or insurance company and wants to file a complaint, a behavioral health advocate can guide you through the complaints process. People can file complaints with the State Department of Health or the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance, depending on their concerns. If your insurance denies treatment, your advocate can help you write a letter of appeal or request information about the denial from your insurance company.

How can people learn more?

“We host monthly forums by region, so individuals can actually log into that forum and chat with one of our supporters about the community and what’s going on in the community. “People can sign on anonymously if they want,” Tinkler said. “This is a safe place for them to talk about their concerns.”

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