Columbia River Mental Health Services

“The strength to show up”
Stock image of two people comforting a third man by holding his hands and right arm.

Columbia River Mental Health Services provides mental health services through a model that offers care without conditions. With a loan from Nonprofit Finance Fund, they’re able to expand into a new facility – increasing both the amount of people they can serve and the standard of care they can provide. 

For more than eighty years, Columbia River Mental Health Services (CRMHS) has been an anchor institution for behavioral health in Southwest Washington State. Focusing largely on lower-income populations – the vast majority of its patients are Medicaid recipients – the nonprofit serves more than 5,000 people per year.

By offering a holistic array of services, CRMHS can respond to the ever-changing mental health needs of the communities it serves. It offers personalized mental health treatment programs for people aged five and older. The organization’s Night Crisis Team responds 24/7 to mental health and substance use crises across Washington’s Clark County. And its opioid treatment program – the largest in Southwest Washington – offers treatment to people in any stage of recovery.

Intervention, prevention, relationships: a unique model for mental health

The US does not have a unified system of mental health services. So often, mental health issues are dealt with in one of two ways: emergency rooms and law enforcement.

Emergency care only deals with the immediate symptoms, whereas people experiencing ongoing mental health challenges often need both long-term care and a holistic approach. And law enforcement officials often don’t have the medical or behavioral health backgrounds to deal with these challenges. At best, these approaches are inefficient, ineffective, and costly. At worst, they're traumatic, violent, or deadly.

In contrast, CRMHS utilizes a model based on intervention, prevention, and long-term relationships. “To use our mobile unit as an example,” says Victor Jackson, CEO of CRMHS, “If we're able to go out and meet patients in an encampment ... we're able to provide some level of intervention there that prevents that patient from going to the emergency room.”

"Being able to provide the services that we do,” he continues, “allows us to intervene sooner in the health care spectrum, so that patients aren’t bouncing back and forth to the hospital or being arrested.”

Similarly, with its approach to treating substance use disorders, CRMHS doesn't just do what's been done in the past. They do what works – even when it's controversial. In contrast to peers who make treatment conditional on stopping their substance use, says Victor, “We can provide intervention even while [people] are actively using, which is very, very different.”

“We're not saying you have to have the strength to quit using,” he goes on.” You just have to have the strength to show up. And in some cases, you just have to have the strength to say you want help.”

Stock image of six people seated in a circle at a group therapy session
For the first time in decades, millions of Americans are collectively processing feelings of shared trauma and grief – and recognizing how mental health services can help them heal.

Addressing mental health stigma

One of the greatest challenges of working in mental health treatment is overcoming the stigmas that many people hold. CRMHS ensures that its staff treat patients with empathy by hiring people who have personally experienced the issues their patients face.

“Everyone on my team has some measure of lived experience,” says Victor. “That's not to say that [we're all] addicts ourselves, but we can certainly appreciate the full spectrum of what our patients and families are going through.”

This includes Victor himself. “My father has been sober now for 23 years,” he says. “[That] really motivates me and inspires me, because not only can I relate to what our patients are going through, but also the sense of urgency in getting those services out there.”

When asked whether he's seen attitudes change about mental health over the years he's worked at CRMHS, Victor said that COVID-19 has been a major factor. “With COVID, most people can understand what it feels like to be isolated,” he says. “They can understand what depression is, and later they can understand with anxiety is … and they can certainly understand the grief aspect of losing someone and not being able to be there.”

For the first time in decades, he continues, millions of Americans are collectively processing feelings of shared trauma and grief – and recognizing how mental health services can help them heal.

Architect's rendering picturing the lobby of CRMHS' new facility, featuring several comfortable armchairs and round tables
Rendering of CRMHS' new facility

How this nonprofit is using a renovation loan to grow

CRMHS is currently moving into a recently-acquired 8,000 square foot facility. This new location will serve as the organization’s primary clinic to meet the immediate needs of clients through its medically assisted treatment substance dependence program.

“This new facility does lend more to patient privacy, patient access,” says Victor. “They're able to get in and get out more easily.”

Offered through NFF's Resilient Communities Fund, which provides low-interest financing to nonprofits working to address the social determinants of health, NFF's $2.5 million loan is providing part of the funding needed to renovate this new space. Says Victor, "With this funding, we've been able to increase the standard of care that we can provide.”

NFF finances mission-driven organizations like CRMHS across the United States. To learn more about how our financing can support your nonprofit, visit the Financing page of our website. 

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