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DHS news release

October 30, 2006

Contact: Jim Sellers 503-945-5738
Program contact: Mike Moore 503-947-5538

Three counties added to mental health supported-employment initiative

A state initiative to help Oregonians with severe psychiatric disabilities get jobs has added Deschutes, Malheur and Marion counties, bringing to seven the number of participating counties.

The initiative seeks to reduce unemployment among Oregonians with severe mental illness, whose jobless rate was 82 percent in 2004 and mirrored national estimates of 80 percent to 90 percent.

"We know having a job helps people with mental illness not only increase their self-esteem but also get control of their symptoms," said Bob Nikkel, Oregon Department of Human Services assistant director for addictions and mental health. "And it's what people want -- they are clear that they want to work."

The three counties are being added to Josephine, Lane, Polk and Washington counties, which already have helped hundreds of people with mental illness go to work as custodians, cashiers, linemen, drywall installers, service-station attendants and in other occupations. Developing a diversity of jobs with numerous employers promotes mainstream occupational choices for people with severe mental illness, Nikkel said.

He said the state would invest a total of $41,000 during the next year from his division and from the DHS Office of Vocational Rehabilitation Services to pay for training and consultation to be delivered by Grants Pass-based Options for Southern Oregon and to help defray participating counties' start-up expenses.

Caseworkers provide a variety of employment-related services such as networking with potential employers, building up confidence among people who may never have worked, setting up interviews, helping new employees with work clothing, assisting with transportation arrangements and helping newly hired people to adjust daily personal schedules to include working. Individuals have a choice about how much assistance to receive, Nikkel said.

Supported employment is an evidence-based practice, meaning its effectiveness is supported by research. The Legislature told DHS and four other state agencies they must spend increasing shares of their budgets on such practices.

Since 2002, Oregon has sent quarterly outcomes data to Dartmouth Medical School to support its multi-state research into the effectiveness of supported-employment services. Sites participating in the Dartmouth project report more than 40 percent of individuals reached are engaged in competitive employment. Over the past 18 months in Oregon, approximately 300 people participated each month with 55 percent to 60 percent reporting competitive employment.

Meanwhile, sites in Grants Pass and Portland also are participating in federal research into whether investing in supported-employment services ultimately reduces government expenditures for benefits to people with severe mental illness.

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