The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Michele Smith
The Times 

CCHS staff is working to destigmatize behavioral health issues


October 8, 2020

DAYTON—Columbia County Hospital System (CCHS) CEO Shane McGuire is concerned about how the Flood of 2020, COVID-19, wildfires, and the smoke from them, is impacting the emotional health of CCHS employees and people throughout the local community. He shared those concerns with the Hospital District board of commissioners at their meeting in September.

“We are experiencing a mental health crisis in our community and state,” he said. “In our own community, we have seen an uptick in suicide attempts, yet our behavioral health team’s volumes, have not returned to pre-COVID-19 levels.”

McGuire shared the following information from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH):

Challenging conditions are still to come in the fourth quarter of 2020 when the need for professional and community support will reach its highest levels.

Social and political division and discontent, increased hours of darkness, lack of financial resources for many, combined with pressure for holiday spending, and concerns about a second, potentially larger wave of COVID-19 infection will come about during this period.

In May 2020, marijuana and liquor sales were up 44-percent, and 31-percent, respectively, compared to 2019, and substance use-related challenges are expected to increase significantly. (About 50-percent of people who experience behavioral health diagnoses develop a substance-related disorder and vice versa.)

DOH is saying a peak of upwards of three million people in the state will experience clinically significant behavioral health symptoms within the next three to six months, with depression and anxiety the most common.

Wayne Pollard, LICSW, is the Director of Behavioral Health Integration at CCHS, and he is a Behavioral Health Consultant. He was hired in 2017 to build the Behavioral Health Integration Program at CCHS.

Pollard said it is true that earlier in the year, the program saw a downturn in the number of patients seen. His team reached out to encourage patients to come in or engage via video or by phone.

As time progressed, patients have been returning. At this point, about 15-percent of engagements have been virtual therapy visits available, along with other therapy models, to anyone thirteen years of age and older.

Pollard said CCHS promotes a marketing campaign aimed at destigmatizing behavioral health issues, letting the community know all people can be affected by them, including CCHS staff and care providers.

He said he and Tasha Willoughby LICSW currently support the secondary school students in the Dayton School District through telehealth counseling. They will begin “Walk-n-Talk” counseling sessions with the students this month.

“Often, teenagers are more willing to talk if we are walking, and not facing each other, as you would in a typical clinical setting,” he said.

When asked about the prognosis for our community, Pollard said, “I see a community of folks who are strong, resilient, and who might need a listening ear and a behavioral health care team who will walk alongside them on the journey to feeling better and living better.”

The Columbia County Hospital District, offering primary care and behavioral care, can be reached by phone at (509) 382-3200.

Blue Mountain Counseling of Dayton offering behavioral health services, and substance abuse counseling and can be reached at (509) 382-1164.

Columbia County Public Health for health-related information at (509) 382-3949.

YWCA for shelter and issues around domestic abuse at (509) 382-9922.

Comprehensive Mental Health of Walla Walla at (509) 524-2920.

Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255

Washington Listens for crisis line referrals, nonclinical psychoeducation services at1-833-681-0211 or online at


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