Deschutes County is seeking a $100,000 health grant to improve outreach and resources to vulnerable populations through school-based health centers in the rural part of the county — an idea that was met with resistance by the chair of the Deschutes County Commission.
If the county were to be awarded the Oregon Health Authority grant, the money would go toward Spanish translation services, staff training and more outreach for LGBTQ students and those who are Black, Indigenous and people of color in the rural part of the county.
The money would also go toward buying a small collection of tablets and phones to help connect families who need services but currently may not have access to the right technology to get services via telehealth, according to county documents.
The grant would help close a gap that has developed as a result of the pandemic. Due to schools being closed and the limitations some families have to use telehealth, referrals to the county from schools for children have dropped 36%, said Janice Garceau, the county’s Behavioral Health director, in a commission meeting Monday.
“We are finding kids are not getting their needs met, and these groups are particularly vulnerable,” Garceau said.
But Commission Chair Tony DeBone took issue with the grant application including terminology like LGBTQ and BIPOC, which stands for Black, Indigenous and people of color, saying he doesn’t understand the terms or why these communities are being singled out.
DeBone said using these terms seems to separate the community instead of being welcoming, and said he is “over” using this kind of terminology.
He voted against submitting the grant application in a meeting Monday. His two colleagues, Commissioners Phil Chang and Patti Adair, voted in favor.
“Either we’re providing health services for anybody in our community who needs it and getting the right service for the right person or we’re not,” DeBone said.
Garceau explained that these communities are being focused on because they are more vulnerable than the dominant population, which for Deschutes County is white, straight and cisgender — a term that refers to someone who identifies with the gender they were assigned by doctors and their parents at birth.
“I think with our LGBTQ community, it is often a question of whether they are feeling safe when they are being served and feeling like their needs are understood and being met,” Garceau said.
Data also show that these groups are more vulnerable in general, said Shannon Brister-Raugust, the county’s interim behavioral health manager. About 30% of the LBGTQ community are more likely to experience a mental health crisis, said Brister-Raugust.
Investing more resources into this population means the county has the ability to act sooner to limit hospitalizations, she said.
“It’s not to say everybody in the LGBTQ community will need this service,” Brister-Raugust said. “It’s identifying those who do and making sure they know about it.”
Brister-Raugust also said that it is clear people of color are also underrepresented. Of the 112 children in the school-based health care programs in Redmond and La Pine, only 13 are Black, Indigenous or people of color, which is not proportional to the population in these areas.
Chang said in the meeting that Deschutes County already has a high youth suicide rate and that he believes more robust outreach efforts at school-based health centers “could have a huge impact.”
“You could look at this as one more suicide prevention tool in our tool box,” Chang said.
DeBone maintained that he did not support a grant application that uses this terminology.
“If I’m missing something, someone explain it to me,” DeBone said.