Columbia River Mental Health Services expands reach

First of three new treatment centers now open in Hazel Dell

Columbia River Health

It’s a critical time for Columbia River Mental Health Services (CRMHS), Southwest Washington’s largest nonprofit in the mental health and recovery arena. In April, the organization was awarded $1.5 million in Medicaid funds to open three new treatment centers.

David Bilby, chief development and community affairs officer for CRMHS, said the new sites are designated to be in Hazel Dell, Camas-Washougal and Battle Ground.

“A year ago, we had no idea we would be growing like this,” said Bilby.

The nonprofit’s Hazel Dell treatment center was the first of the three new facilities to become operational; it opened on Tuesday, September 1. In each new treatment center, two or three clinicians will operate on-site, allowing the nonprofit to help more patients than ever before.

“The new centers will make it possible for us to do the work we need to do,” said Bilby, adding an important caveat. “We are in a vulnerable situation since funding is only for one year and is dependent upon Medicaid, a federal program subject to change.

Like the majority of nonprofits, funding is a familiar challenge for Columbia River. According to Bilby, 2014 was so rough from a financial standpoint that executive level changes had to go into effect. However, he said, since those changes have occurred the organization is “out of the financial slump and into the black.”

“[Our new Executive Director] Craig Pridemore – since he has been here, he has laid the groundwork for us to expand in this way,” said Bilby. “We are even considering plans of integration, possibly partnering with healthcare providers. We can function as the mental health and recovery arm of those healthcare systems. And our role within the area might be more accurately described as behavioral health services, since many of our patients are in recovery.”

Pridemore, a former Washington state Senator and Clark County Commissioner from 1999 to 2004, accepted the executive direction position at Columbia River in January. Bilby said of the new director, “he has turned this ship.”

“Oh, I pay him to say things like that,” Pridemore joked, and then added, “I hope I have been helpful in leading us in the right direction.”

Another challenge the nonprofit currently faces, again related to funding, is the fact that many landlords who lease commercial property want multi-year contracts. Bilby said lease negotiations have proved daunting of late, and have handicapped the possibility of a new center in Washougal.

“We are now looking for a place in [downtown] Camas,” he said. “That location would be great. It would serve people in northeast Vancouver, Camas and Washougal.”

“The biggest issue clearly has been finding the sites that will be best for us,” added Pridemore. “Finding a site in downtown Camas would be ideal.”

As for the Battle Ground treatment center, Pridemore called it a big opportunity.

“We’ll be coordinating with Rose City Medical,” he explained. “We will be two separate organizations working together, following the Medicaid reform movement.”

According to Pridemore, the Medicaid reform movement (in the first phase) consolidates funding streams for mental and physical health care. In the second phase, he said, collaboration and coordination between mental and physical treatment is created.

“This is an exciting transition for mental and physical health treatment, [and is] more economical for taxpayers,” noted Pridemore. “It will bring better primary care provision and delivery for our patients.”

When asked about future expectations, Bilby said the nonprofit is “trying to be prudent yet still meet people’s needs.”

“There was no strategy or plan for this one year ago, but we heard the need [and] we answered the call,” he said. “We are really here to help the poorest of the poor. We are looking forward to the future, to help more people empower their lives.”

Columbia River Mental Health Services has been serving residents in Southwest Washington since 1942. The nonprofit has an annual operating budget of $13.5 million and more than 200 employees.

Columbia River Mental Health Services
Founded 1942