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Inslee forms subcabinet on mental health and substance abuse

Published by Daniel Brooks Moore on

For Washington residents with mental health and substance abuse issues, it can be a challenge to get all of their needs met by the health care system.

That is why Gov. Jay Inslee has announced the formation of a subcabinet to bring together state agencies to work on multiple system reforms, including physical and behavioral health integration, mental health and our state response to the opioid crisis.

“The mental health and opioid crises are interrelated and complex. It is crucial that we use all the ingenuity we have to step up to work harder and smarter and do everything we can to help Washingtonians get the care they need,” Inslee said. “That is why I am pulling together state agencies to accelerate our efforts.”

The subcabinet will include leaders of the state Health Care Authority, the Department of Social and Health Services, and the Department of Health. Other agencies will be invited as needed to coordinate on health-related issues such as housing (Department of Commerce), criminal justice (Department of Corrections), and health insurance (Office of the Insurance Commissioner and the Health Benefit Exchange).

“The governor’s creation of this health subcabinet assures mental illness and substance abuse are given the focus needed to meet the needs of Washingtonians,” said Cheryl Strange, secretary of DSHS. “This approach has the promise of better health outcomes for the most vulnerable residents in our state, including the ability to organize around our opioid crisis, which is a clear and present public health threat. This directive gives us clear focus.”

In April, Gov. Jay Inslee spoke with community leaders during his visit to Western State Hospital in Lakewood. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

The subcabinet will create a plan for:

  • Interrelated health issues (opioids, mental health and behavioral health integration) and include community stakeholder and Tribal government input;
  • By July 1, 2018, aligning the behavioral health Medicaid program staff currently at DSHS with the other Medicaid staff at HCA, and streamlining the licensing and certification processes for health care providers, and housing all of those services within one agency — the Department of Health.

“We face a number of challenges with opioid addiction in our state that will only be solved by bringing all of our people and resources to bear. This new subcabinet will accelerate and strengthen our work to help defeat this disease,” said John Weisman, secretary of the Department of Health.

State law requires the state to fully integrate purchasing for physical health, mental health and substance abuse disorder treatment by Jan. 1, 2020. A bill (House Bill 1388/Senate Bill 5259) to align the state agency programs in this regard will be considered during the upcoming legislative session.

The Health Care Authority has a video that describes the integration of physical and behavioral health.

“This directive reaffirms the importance of our efforts to align state agency functions to best serve Washingtonians,” said Lou McDermott, acting director of the HCA. “For too long, we have separated physical and behavioral health, when we know the two are interconnected in order to achieve whole-person health. I look forward to continued partnership with my colleagues at DSHS and DOH to strengthen our focus on building a healthier Washington.”

For more information, Results Washington has statistics and graphs on opioid use and death in Washington state.


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