Marion County taking mental health treatment by van to Mill City

Marion County has a new way to help residents of the Santiam Canyon get connected with mental health or addiction treatment without making the long trip to Salem.

County officials recently began sending a counselor or therapist in a van to Mill City. They travel with a certified addiction recovery mentor or peer, who helps provide first-time assessments by appointment to find out what type of behavioral health treatment a patient is seeking and refer them to the right treatment. 

The “wellness van” will be parked every Wednesday at Santiam Medical Clinic, 280 S. 1st Ave. in Mill City.

The van is intended to make mental health and addiction treatment more accessible in the canyon after one of the area’s few providers, Crossing Bridges Counseling Center, closed its doors in June.

Commissioner Colm Willis said the Stayton facility was serving 300 people when it closed.

Marion County doesn’t currently have a contract with Santiam Hospital, Willis said, but the hospital allows county staff to park the van at the hospital’s clinic and refer patients to services.

He said the county spends about $800 each Wednesday that the van goes to Mill City, which would total nearly $40,000 for a full year.

It’s a far drive to Salem for many Santiam Canyon residents who need services.

Before Crossing Bridges closed, Willis said the facility was the only general behavioral health service in the canyon, as opposed to some specialized treatment.

“It’s pretty important for folks up there, because if you don’t fit into a specific bucket and you still need service, that’s a big problem,” he said.

Willis said the van is also intended to gauge the need for Marion County’s behavioral health services in the canyon as county and hospital officials are discussing a more permanent arrangement.

“I would say in general, we like to be the safety net. We don’t want to compete with other private health care businesses in our community,” he said. “But when there’s a gap like this, we feel like it’s our job to fill in that gap. So to a certain extent, we’re up there, we’re providing service and we’re learning how much there is.”

Many of the patients were referred to the wellness van through Santiam Hospital’s MIll City clinic, according to Kim Klotz, supervisor of the hospital’s Community Health and Outreach program.

If a patient comes in for a regular doctor’s visit, indicates they may need additional services including for mental health or substance use disorders and is willing to seek treatment, Klotz said community health workers at the hospital can help them schedule an appointment with the van.

“We try and go about multiple avenues, whether it’s through insurance and if they want private counseling and so forth. But with this new availability then we can connect them, especially if they’re up here in the canyon,” she said.

Klotz said availability for the van has been limited as appointments have been filling up since it was first dispatched to the Mill City clinic July 20.

The van is a relatively new investment for the county, Willis said. It’s so far been driven to various places in the county to provide testing for sexually transmitted diseases and Covid.

“It’s anything where there’s a population that is not easy to get to your traditional health care setting,” he said.

The idea comes nearly two years after the Beachie Creek Fire burned through the canyon in September 2020.

Hundreds of people displaced were still looking for permanent housing over a year later, leading to trauma, depression and chronic stress for wildfire survivors, according to a Community Health Impact Assessment of the Santiam Canyon led by Oregon State University.

Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian: [email protected] or 503-929-3053.

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Ardeshir Tabrizian has covered criminal justice and housing for Salem Reporter since September 2021. As an Oregon native, his award-winning watchdog journalism has traversed the state. He has done reporting for The Oregonian, Eugene Weekly and Malheur Enterprise.