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Oregon Health Authority Joins Portland Police on DOJ Watchlist

Here's a U.S. Department of Justice agreement a lot of people have overlooked: the state of Oregon is on the hook to make sure its mental health programs are not violating the Americans with Disability Act.

The DOJ has had the state under investigation since 2010. Under the ADA, a state cannot segregate individuals with disabilities—including severe and persistent mental illness—in institutional settings when they could receive care through community-based services.

The department's investigation also stems from the related investigation of the Oregon State Hospital concerning conditions and treatment of patients, which began in 2006 and remains open.

The agreement, released in November, received far less attention than September's high profile Department of Justice finding against the Portland Police Bureau, which the DOJ says has a "pattern and practice" of using excessive force on the mentally ill.

Police and city leaders have blamed Oregon's poor safety net as part of the reason Portland's officers are left to deal with so many people in mental health crisis. While the new agreement doesn't mention the PPB, the findings do seem to give some credence to that claim.

Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg tells WW he was "surprised" that the latest DOJ findings garnered no mention from any major media. The DOJ put out a press release, and it, along with state officials, hosted a conference call shortly before Thanksgiving.

The state and the DOJ are now signing off on a mental health services action plan that starts with Oregon taking much better stock of who is using which programs and where. The next step of the agreement will bring the state and the DOJ together to find where the gaps are and how they might be fixed.

By 2015, the DOJ expects Oregon to report back its progress.

Many of the steps in the agreement, Goldberg says, will fold into the state's redesign of its health care system into Coordinated Care Organizations that's now underway.

"In this settlement is an agreement by the feds that we're in essence headed in the right path," Goldberg says.