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ֱState University establishes Oregon Center for Excellence in Behavioral Health and Aging

New center to address growing mental health crises among older adults, including expanded access to care and resources

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Oregon’s population is rapidly aging. With this shift comes an increasing need for access to behavioral health resources, including support for substance use disorders and serious mental illness. But these resources are often inaccessible and underutilized as the state’s aging population encounters barriers to services and supports. ֱState University, in partnership with Oregon Health & Science University, has received a $1 million, two-year grant from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to establish a center for excellence designed to address these challenges. This pass-through funding comes from Oregon’s federal block grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. This award reflects OHA’s strategic vision to address the behavioral health needs of older adults through training, research and workforce development.

“With a focus on the broad behavioral health needs of older adults living throughout Oregon — urban, rural, remote and tribal communities — establishing a Center of Excellence in Behavioral Health and Aging is critically important, timely, and will be relevant to the current needs of the aging population,” said Mary Oschwald, director of the Regional Research Institute for Human Services in PSU’s School of Social Work. “Grounded in principles of access and equity, this Center is the first of its kind in Oregon. We are encouraged and appreciate the opportunity to co-create and widely distribute information and resources to older adults, providers, program administrators and educators that can be tailored to best support the behavioral health needs of Oregon older adults.”  

The Center for Excellence is a collaboration between the PSU School of Social Work, the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health, the OHSU School of Medicine, and OHSU School of Nursing. The activities will primarily be conducted within the ֱState’s Institute on Aging and Regional Research Institute for Human Services. This multidisciplinary approach advances advocacy, health equity and best practices in care.

“We are facing a nationwide mental health crisis among older adults that for far too long has been overlooked. Tragically, many behavioral health issues go undiagnosed and untreated, leaving many older adults to navigate the journey alone,” said Walter Dawson, co-director of the Center and assistant professor of neurology in the OHSU School of Medicine. “All Oregonians deserve access to high-quality care that can support health and well-being across the life course including late life. Addressing a brain health challenge of this scope requires state and system-wide collaborations, and the establishment of this center is a critical first step towards improving the lives of Oregon’s aging population.”

Addressing behavioral health and aging requires an integrated lens that is made possible with the Oregon Center for Excellence in Behavioral Health and Aging. The Center’s purpose is to increase access to care by expanding the number of health and social service professionals trained to provide culturally-specific behavioral health services and through the promotion of research, evidence-based practices, health policy, and collaboration with programs that improve access to and quality of behavioral health services provided by diverse organizations throughout the state. Oregon’s rural, remote and tribal communities are particularly at-risk, with rural populations aging more rapidly than their urban counterparts and have more significant needs and access to fewer resources.

“Oregon Health Authority’s Office of Behavioral Health Services had the strategic vision and commitment to meet the needs of all older Oregonians as it promotes healthy communities and highest quality care to enhance well-being, said Nirmala Dhar, Older Adult Behavioral Health Services coordinator, Health System Division. “To prepare for this demographic shift that projects older adults will outnumber children and youth by 2034, OHA has committed to establishing a Center for Excellence for Behavioral Health and Aging. The underlying values are the belief that behavioral health is ֱational to the well beings of older adult.”

Supporting and expanding behavioral health programs and providers in Oregon will improve the well-being of Oregon’s aging population — especially those living with mental health and substance use disorders.

Next steps for the Center include developing an intersectional equity framework with community partner input, creating a steering committee and national advisory board, organizing workfroce development events and a statewide conference, and developing an evaluation plan.

on the Center. More information available at oregonbhi.org.