EUGENE, Ore. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden announced plans Thursday to introduce a bill in the U.S. Senate aimed at bringing mental health services similar to CAHOOTS to cities and towns across the nation.
Wyden, joined by Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis and leaders from White Bird Clinic which operates CAHOOTS, said the model has found success in Eugene and could help other areas.
“What I’m going to try to do is introduce legislation to give these wonderful people and some of their colleagues around the country the tools to build on what CAHOOTS has really pioneered,” Wyden said.
CAHOOTS has been operating for more than 30 years and only recently entered the national spotlight as local governments look to find new forms of community policing in the wake of nationwide protests over police brutality.
As ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, Wyden is eyeing Medicaid dollars as a way to expand CAHOOTS-style mental health services.
“I think we can reinvent Medicaid so as to have enough flexibility for CAHOOTS to continue their approach and other approaches around the country,” Wyden said.
Wyden said that approach is also cheaper than having police respond to every mental health call.
Chris Hecht, executive coordinator with White Bird Clinic, agreed.
“When we review our data, it suggests to us every dollar invested in a program like CAHOOTS, a community will save seven or eight dollars,” Hecht said.
Hecht said the CAHOOTS model also comes with the benefit of creating trust between the community and mental health providers.
“The fact that we are not part of government helps us establish and maintain a much more solid trust relationship with the clients we serve, many of whom have a history of unfortunate interactions with law enforcement,” Hecht said.
A spokesperson for Wyden said the language of the bill is still being drafted. Wyden told reporters he is optimistic that Republicans will vote in favor of such legislation because of the cost savings it purports to create.
— Jacob Roberts (@JacobRobertsTV) July 16, 2020