Ohio's annual conference of behavioral health workers comes at an interesting time in the field. Though still burdened by the opioid epidemic, counties across the state say they’re heartened by Gov. Mike DeWine’s focus on mental health and recovery.
The Ohio Recovery Conference is hosted by the Ohio Association of County Behavioral Health Authorities. CEO Cheri Walter pauses and takes a deep breath when asked about the state of recovery in Ohio.
“Maybe a little chaotic,” Walter says. “There’s a lot going on.”
DeWine's "STRONG Ohio" plan is the latest proposal meant to increase treatment for people suffering from mental illness. The governor recently began a push to expand the state’s “pink slip” law, which allows people to be involuntarily hospitalized in psychiatric facilities, to include people in the throes of substance abuse.
"I think the good news here is I have never seen so much emphasis on trying to make sure people get the services they need, whether that’s crisis services, whether that’s urgent care, whether that’s long-term residential," Walter says. "There are a lot of people talking about, 'How do we make sure that people get the services they need so that they can be safe, so that they can be healthy, and so that they can move past either the mental illness or the addiction being in an active state to being in a state of recovery where they really become productive members of their local communities.'"
In his first State of the State address, DeWine announced plans for a new public health fund working on substance abuse, mental health treatment and crisis support for children.
DeWine also supports the expansion of Ohio's Medicaid program, although as Ohio's Attorney General he joined a lawsuit challenging the constituionality of the Affordable Care Act, while let states expand Medicaid eligibility.
“Our thinking is we want to work with people who want to provide additional services,” Walter says. “What I will say is, we know that we have to go beyond just a three-day pink slip commitment. We have to ensure that after that, we have services like residential services and crisis care.”
Despite the governor’s new emphasis on addiction treatment, behavioral health offices remain stretched by the opioid crisis. Ohio still has one of the highest rates of overdoses deaths in the nation, although the number of lethal overdoses in the state fell by 23% in 2018.
If there were just one proposal she would have the legislature approve, Walter said she’d like to ensure the state “has a much more robust crisis system of care and that crisis services were part of the Medicaid benefit package for both addiction and mental illness.”
The Ohio Recovery Conference takes place October 14-15 inside the downtown Hyatt Regency. Breakout sessions over the conference’s two days include presentations on boundaries and ethics for peer supporters, searching for a job while in recovery, and personal finances.