Umatilla County offers contract to new treatment provider, pulling two care areas under one umbrella

Kimberly Lindsay

Residents of Umatilla County will have a new provider for mental health and substance use disorder treatment later this year.

County Commissioner John Shafer on Wednesday, May 26, said the contract for those services has been awarded to Community Counseling Solutions, or CCS.

Currently the county is served by its own Department of Human Services for addiction treatment, and by Lifeways for mental health needs.

Getting both programs under one provider umbrella was recommended by an independent consultant, Shafer said. A recent county-wide needs assessment showed residents would be served better if employees in a single agency could interact together on behalf of a client, he explained.

Then, for example, if an addiction counselor determines the root cause of a person over medicating is a mental health issues, that counselor can consult with an in-house expert in behavioral health and together build an effective treatment plan, the commissioner said.

Lifeways and CCS responded to the county’s request for proposals for the services. A panel of five people, including an educator, law enforcement staff and county employees, scored those proposals and recommended awarding the contract to CCS.

Lifeways, which has had a presence in Umatilla County for about 14 years, has seven days to appeal the decision, Shafer said.

The Ontario-based organization has had an uneven record of service in Umatilla County. Shafer, who had a career with the Sheriff’s Office in Pendleton before being elected as a county commissioner, said Lifeways has struggled much of the time to respond appropriately to people in immediate crisis.

“Three years ago Lifeways was put on probation, the service was so bad, and law enforcement was up in arms.”

CCS, based in Heppner, Oregon, currently contracts with four other Eastern Oregon counties to provide a gamut of services.

Kimberly Lindsay, executive director of the agency, said bringing that care to Umatilla County will be a planned-out, thoughtful marathon and not a race.

Early planning calls for starting addiction services Sept. 1, and mental health care on Dec. 1.

It will be a big lift to come in and begin filling needs, Lindsay said, and she has responsibilities to other counties while gearing up to arrive in Umatilla County.

Current Umatilla County employees working in substance use disorder services will become CCS employees if they choose, and she will be hiring to fill any holes, Lindsay said.

Lifeways staff will also be welcome to consider working for CCS, she added.

“I don’t want Lifeway employees to leave, I’d like to employ them … We need employees to do the work. We value them.”

Above all else comes customer care, Lindsay said, then employees and then community relationships.

“If the customers come first, if you do that part well, everything else falls in place.”

After many years in the business of care, Lindsay said that while she does not plan to make wholesale changes immediately, she is aware CCS will have growing pains and probably make some mistakes. Not everyone will be happy with everything, she added.

Still, the agency’s mission of providing the support to improve the well-being of communities will be fulfilled in Umatilla County, Lindsay said.

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers health, social services and city government in Milton-Freewater, Athena and Weston in the Walla Walla Valley.