The White Bird Clinic is expanding its mental health counseling department after years of pandemics have made the need for such services even more urgent.
“Every one of us, the reader who is rolling their eyes on these words, has had a pretty rough two or three years,” said Chris Hecht, executive coordinator of the White Bird Clinic. “We all have.”
But for those with less support, resources and income, additional stressors have made it even harder to cope, Hecht said.
The White Bird Clinic is responding to the need by hiring three new mental health doctors on staff, who will create openings for approximately 40 new clients. In the spring, consulting services will move from 341 E. 12th to 1910 Pearl St., which will give consultants more space to work. For now, all mental health counseling sessions take place remotely via Telehealth.
New physicians’ 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 communicate a sense of calm, grounding and reassurance through aspects such as color, light and furniture, shared by Hecht. The goal of its trauma-informed design is to ensure that people receiving care receive care in a way that recognizes past traumatic interactions with authority, family, or anything else that makes access to care more difficult.
“This is one of the things we understand a lot better now than we did five years ago,” said Hecht. “The way the space is arranged, even just the way it is decorated, can be rooting, calming and reassuring, or the other way around.”
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Across the county, the demand for counseling services has grown under the pressure of recent years. A 2021 American Psychological Association survey found that many psychologists reported increased demand for anxiety and depression treatment, as well as increased workloads, longer waiting lists, and poor new patient capacity. Cures may already be hard to find before the pandemic. In 2018-2019, 8.9 percent of adults in Oregon, 291,000 people, reported an unmet need for mental health care over the past year, which was higher than the U.S. share of 6.2 percent, according to one. Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.
Patients with the Oregon Health Plan or Medicare often have even fewer services available and more obstacles in the way. Among Oregon adults who reported an unmet need for mental health care in the past year, 38.2 percent have not received care due to cost, according to KFF.
“We already had a situation that made it difficult to get Medicare, Medicaid, and then it happened,” Hecht said. “And what we saw was an increase in the already too long waiting list and a fair amount of vendors saying ‘We’re not adding to our waiting list’ and or ‘We won’t be accepting new OHP patients anymore.’ “
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White Bird serves adults on OHP, but due to increased patient volume, it may take a few weeks before a consultation is scheduled.
Hecht hopes the expansion will give more people the help they need.
“We identified this need and said we had to do something and we had to do it as quickly as possible,” said Hecht.
The White Bird Clinic invites anyone aged 16 or over to visit the White Bird website and complete the Mental Health Counseling Screening Form to request an appointment at https://whitebirdclinic.org/counseling.
Contact journalist Tatiana Parafiniuk-Talesnick at [email protected] or 541-521-7512 and follow her on Twitter @TatianaSophiaPT.