Lincoln County Oregon Builds a Collaborative Community…Transforming Health Care to a Patient Centered Model…

Lincoln County Commissioner, Claire Hall, a close friend and colleague, asked me to come in for a visit in May of 2016 after she attended a National Association of Counties (NACo) conference in Washington D.C. At that moment the Stepping Up Initiative was hatched in Claire’s office, and the rest is history. Commissioner Hall hired me as project consultant, and recruited newly installed Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers to join the project leadership team. It is within this leadership structure and steadfast commitment that we began paving the way for the amazing transformation we have experienced as a community in the last three (3) years, including a ready and willing community of partners and stakeholders. As a community we had reached a critical point in 2016 when we had to change or be left behind as a rural County of close to 50,000 citizens. We were running out of time…

Lincoln County Commissioners, Kaety Jacobson, Claire Hall, and Doug Hunt

On October 5, 2016 Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners (BOC) passed a resolution to make Stepping Up Initiative a top priority for leading Lincoln County into a 21st Century transformative health care delivery system; especially for the most vulnerable citizens, including our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, cousins, who are so often left behind in the streets as homeless, and all too often suffer from mental illness, and addiction. We then set out to navigate the County through an exciting and challenging period of change and breaking down barriers. As a community we were too siloed stuck in place for far too long. We had limited collaborations and partnerships which denied the community of diversified funding opportunities. Lincoln County Sheriff, Curtis Landers stepped up immediately to help lead with a smart on crime approach of diverting vulnerable individuals from the County Jail and hospital emergency services to community based treatment and recovery upstream services…a continuum of care.

Lincoln County Sheriff Curtis Landers

The culmination of this awesome community building effort was represented in full force last Friday, September 13th. With a full moon and the stars aligned we met for the 3rd year as a leadership team of partners and stakeholders to review progress and continue to close the gaps and solidify Stepping Up Initiative as the new community based culture of collaboration. Hosted by Oregon Center on Behavioral Health & Justice Integration, the workshop goals are focused on this broader theme…

“Mental health and criminal justice systems often collide, creating significant barriers to treatment and support services. Sequential Intercept Mapping & Taking Action for Change helps develop and implement plans for community change through cross-system collaboration. This workshop enhances practices and facilitates organizational change utilizing innovative and dynamic tools to map systems, identify gaps in service, and clarify community resources.”


  • Further the delivery of appropriate services to people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders involved in the criminal justice system
  • Assist in identifying gaps in service
  • Optimize use of local resources

Topics and Activities

This program is customized to the very specific needs and desired outcomes of our community.

  • Cross-Systems Mapping
  • Identifying Resources and Gaps in Service
  • Setting Community Priorities
  • Developing an Action Plan to Implement Change

As a long time citizen of Lincoln County and Depoe Bay, Oregon, I’m so very honored and proud to have been part of this unprecedented community building effort in our coastal community. Lincoln County now leads in the State of Oregon and across the nation as a transformative rural community. We can be proud as a community of the excellent leadership and commitment from Lincoln County Board of Commissioners and Sheriff for their steadfast leadership commitment…and innovative spirit. We succeeded in becoming an empowered community of partners and stakeholders…and there is no turning back the clock. We are more than ready for the next generation of Stepping Up Initiative…2.0.

Steve Sparks, Project Consultant, Stepping Up Initiative, Lincoln County Oregon and Resident Cheer Leader

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Mental Health Advocate

Jails and Prisons were Never Built to Warehouse People with Mental Health Illnesses! The “Stepping Up Initiative” provides hope for change in America…

Stepping Up Initiative

Each year, there are an estimated 2 million people with serious mental illnesses admitted to jails across the nation. That’s equivalent to the populations of Vermont and New Hampshire—combined. Almost three-quarters of these adults also have drug and alcohol use problems. Once incarcerated, individuals with mental illnesses tend to stay longer in jail and upon release are at a higher risk of returning to incarceration than those without these illnesses.

Stepping Up: A National Initiative to Reduce the Number of People with Mental Illnesses in Jails

The Stepping Up Initiative  Click here for this important message…a short video clip.


I want to recognize the heroic, passionate, and tireless work of our law enforcement, emergency services, and public health community in Lincoln County Oregon, and elsewhere in America!  It is an honor to know the top professionals who work each and every day on our behalf who have done so much for so long to create better conditions for the care of those in need who risk ending up on the wrong side of the law.  Please thank those in uniform for their service each time you see them.

I had the opportunity as a citizen of Lincoln County Oregon to visit our County Jail in Newport Oregon to see for myself what is considered a crisis in America that we must fix.  In our beautiful coastal community of Newport, Oregon, we warehouse people, upwards of 35% of jail population, with a variety of mental health and substance abuse illnesses. This unfortunate circumstance started to evolve way back during my childhood when we were closing down institutions for the mentally ill, forcing the challenge and responsibility back to our local communities, as we well should.  But the only place to send these troubled and challenged souls in our community has been to jail, period!  We were never prepared to provide adequate and humane treatment, transitional services or housing to help those who are sick to return to a healthy, responsible, and productive quality of life.  Lincoln County Oregon is a small rural county among 4000+ counties in the United States of America.  A crisis now exist at a critical mass that is completely unacceptable in America by our own well established moral obligations as well as constitutional rights.  

The law enforcement community has been screaming about this for many years to little or no avail until now…  The Stepping Up Initiative was formally launched during a summit in Washington D.C. this past April 2016.  Each and every county in America is in the process of launching the Stepping Up Initiative, including Lincoln County Oregon.

I’m proud and honored to have been invited to join the Lincoln County Oregon Board of Commissioners team, as a project consultant, to help guide the County in building a community wide collaborative strategy and implementation plan to launch the Stepping Up Initiative.  This effort is a true call to action by all citizens and stakeholders of Lincoln County Oregon and for all counties in Oregon and across America.  

I plan to provide updates on our progress in the County using this website as a platform for outreach on this important topic.  Mental Health affects children and families everywhere. Some families suffer for a lifetime without treatment or care.  We must build the capacity to take back our innately human responsibility to care for our citizens who are not able to care for themselves.  We must help our fellow citizens and neighbors get back on their feet so that they have the same opportunities in life to realize dreams of good health, happiness, and success as the rest of us. We can no longer ignore the inhumane conditions in our jails and prisons that we most often do not even see for ourselves, so we do not know.  I know now after a profoundly meaningful and emotional visit to our own Lincoln County Oregon Jail in Newport Oregon.

Please feel free to engage with me as I go on this new journey of public service in Lincoln County Oregon. You can do your part by sharing this blog post on your own social media networks.  Start the conversation with friends and neighbors to reform jails and prisons…it is our duty to fix.  You can also help directly as volunteers in your own community to make a difference at the local level.

Steve Sparks click here for my author page…

Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee