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Children’s mental health program revamped for state

Group meets to hear about county services

Jennifer Griffis

Photo by Lorie Palmer
Jennifer Griffis

— Fourteen months of intense work in the State of Idaho children’s mental health realm has brought Jen Griffis full circle. She is now explaining the YES (Youth Empowerment Services) program to her community. She started that endeavor Tuesday evening, May 2.

Griffis has served as the chair of the Idaho Behavioral Health Planning Council and is a parent-advocate.

At the Soltman Center, 14 parents, care providers and community members gathered to learn more about the new system of care.

Griffis’ work at the state stems from the Jeff D. Class Action Lawsuit started in 1980 and involving Department of Health and Welfare, Department of Juvenile Corrections and State Department of Education. Griffis worked on a mediation committee that helped form the new YES stem of care.

Although the model is comprehensive and multi-faceted, Griffis discussed a few highlights.

“One of the main components of this is that what is going to be offered is a child-centered approach; what is needed by a specific client [child], not simply what is available,” she explained.

The care is offered for anyone who is a resident of Idaho younger than the age of 18 who has an SED (severe emotional disturbance) with functional impairment. This requires a CANS (Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths) testing and a diagnosis. Although e the services are available to anyone in this category, there may some financial responsibility for those not covered by public funds (Medicaid), since the lawsuit does not directly apply to private insurance.

“However, it is likely that private insurances are paying attention to this lawsuit and we might be able to expect some changes from private insurance companies as time goes on,” Griffis said.

“Who is verifying the SED and the Medicaid eligibility,” asked Grangeville Elementary Middle School counselor Angie Edwards.

Griffis explained there is not just one entity doing this.

“This system was created so there are multiple avenues of entry – not just one,” she said. In addition, diagnosis, evaluations and tests should be electronic so the same paperwork is not required over and over at each specific agency involved.

The changes are supposed to be implemented between now and 2020, and include 26 areas that cover the entire spectrum of mental health care. These include in-patient, day treatment, psychotherapies, respite, medication management, diagnostic assessment, crisis response, neuropsychological testing and skill building.

“I know – I see some of you chuckling,” Griffis said. “Our frontier area makes some of the care list seem also impossible, but we have the opportunity to figure out what we can do as a community: where we can tap in to resources and even what we can create.”

Griffis asked the group what they would like to see in Idaho County and what the changes would look like for the area.

“We need a child mental health worker back in Grangeville,” Edwards said. This position is now a traveling one, and the person is only here two days a month.”

Debbie Hays, who has worked for years with children with special needs, said she gets frustrated at what is asked of people who need help.

“They come in and they are made to dial a number and talk to someone in Boise,” she said. “How can someone in Boise help with their immediate needs?”

The group also discussed that many of the new services in YES will be managed by Optum, a branch under the United Health Care umbrella.

“I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer but it’s hard enough to maintain what we do here within our own community,” said Tammy Everson, a licensed social worker and clinical manager at Camas Professional Counseling in Grangeville. Everson explained how she had been in tears fighting for services for an ill child. “I am having a very hard time believing in the positives when it’s going to be governed by managed care.”

Griffis nodded in understanding.

“The definition of a ‘child and family team’ [under the 26 care terms] will not work with some of the current policies – some of those will need to change.”

Griffis is hopeful those things will indeed change, as a “group of lawyers and stakeholders are there to make sure this is implemented,” she smiled. “This is a lawsuit. There is no choice – it has to get done. The state needs to make this work – it’s a big deal.”

Everson also commented on the inordinate amount of paperwork within the state agencies [Medicaid].

“I’m conflicted [on the use of public funds] but I love this discussion,” said attendee Fred Stevens, who, along with his wife, Rene, is an instructor for Darkness into Light sexual abuse awareness training. “I do know, however, there have been people who need help who are not getting help and they need the help.”

Stevens also said he understands the paperwork process being overwhelming, “but accounting for public funds is not going to go away, nor do I think it should.”

Others in the group brought up the need for more providers in mental health are needed, but they need to be paid competitively and offered benefits.

Griffis said she understands “we are in a healthcare shortage area,” she said. “That means we have to get creative in order to move forward.”

To continue the discussions and move toward YES, Griffis is implementing the Facebook page Salmon-Clearwater Children’s Mental Health Champions to disseminate information, gain community support and offer a visible face to the changes occurring within the system.

Griffis is available to discuss YES with groups and organizations within Idaho County who would like to know more. Reach her at


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