Federal call to improve mental health delivery is an opportunity

Washington state has to review its approach, which we hope will result in improved mental-health programs.

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The federal agency that oversees delivery of mental-health services around the nation has threatened to cut funding to Washington state unless officials make changes in the way the state operates programs.

The federal government might be on to something.

While those involved in the delivery of mental-health services at the regional and local level are certainly well intended and committed to their work, the swirling of red tape seems to create constant confusion. This observation is more anecdotal than empirical.

The agency, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, wrote in a letter that Washington state officials aren’t going through a proper bidding process for regional networks. At this point, it is not clear what the problems are, but it would seem prudent for officials to look at the specific concerns and address them.

Regional Support Networks in Washington administer mental-health services in the state, with many counties joining together to operate within the same regional network, according to The Associated Press. The concept is to keep mental-health services at the local government level, since there is a close relationship between mental-health problems and local courts, law enforcement and jails.

Democratic state Sen. Jeannie Darneille said she sees pitfalls of moving away from that model to open bidding. Her concern is the end result might not be aligned with the desires of local officials.

The concern is legitimate, but surely can be overcome. The expectations of any contract should include the need to meet specific goals, such as working with law enforcement.

Instead of bristling at federal concerns, state lawmakers and officials should look at this as an opportunity to improve the delivery of services.

Providing adequate mental-health treatment to those who need it is a huge public issue. Treatment benefits all of society, not only the individual receiving services.

Public awareness of the need to provide mental-health treatment is on the rise. People know it is necessary and agree tax dollars should be used for that purpose.

The federal government suggests in its letter that the state come up with a plan to correct problems within 90 days so lawmakers can take action when they return to Olympia in January.

The timetable seems less important than getting it right. Improving the delivery of mental-health services should be considered a high priority for state officials and lawmakers.

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