Why we document you: Recording the city’s oversight failure

Published in Street Roots, June 2016
by Jason Renaud and Jenny Westberg | 23 Jun 2016
COMMENTARY | Many Portlanders who are vulnerable to police harm are scrutinizing officials with cellphone cameras

It seems like a million years ago, but there was a time when the testament to a fine performance or thrilling speech was a standing ovation. Even further back, for a moment in adolescence, we lifted our matches in a darkened stadium to share a twinkling recognition of the ascendancy of rock. More recently, during Occupy, we all learned to twinkle our fingers in agreement and hiss in displeasure.

Today our matches no longer light the sky. Instead, we hold our cellphone cameras aloft, aimed directly at authority, secrecy and control. There’s plenty of each. You can find the evidence on our website.

Over the years, the website of the Mental Health Association of Portland has collected thousands of articles, reports, photos and videos chronicling the history of mental illness and addiction in Oregon. We built this rich archive because no one else bothers to collect our history – the story of how people with mental illness and addiction have been treated in Oregon.

Our online archive documents our genocide, generation after generation, at the hands of the state and citizens of Oregon.

We document the warehousing, isolation, beating, poisoning, torture, drowning, exile, medical experimentation and unmarked mass graves. We document the hatred, the contemptuous laughter, the poverty, sickness and death. Our bullet-ridden bodies tell a terrible story that few acknowledge and fewer mourn. We document an ongoing horror, through the years and as it happens.

Much of this happened out of society’s view, and society was just fine with that. Moreover, the decisions and policies that shaped our lives happened without us. Today we have a new tool to bring authority out of the darkness and into brilliant sunshine.

Cellphone cameras are now flooding city and county chambers, public meetings and committee hearings across the nation. And in Portland, advocates are closely monitoring police accountability discussions, making recordings and carefully posting them online.

Why are we interested in the police? Because our police are well known for their routine harm to people with mental illness.

Most of these cellphone cameras are held by people who have experienced mental illness and addiction, violence or threat of violence by our police – or are entirely sympathetic to the welfare of those who have.

Why such scrutiny? Many of these meetings are also recorded and carefully posted online by the organization hosting the meeting. Why bother to make a second, often inferior, recording?

Further, the makers of the secondary recordings have been jerks, harrassing volunteer committee members, giving running commentary over the proceedings, intending the camera as a forceful spotlight, pointing it like a weapon. They are intentionally rude and should cease. But those hosting public meetings need to smarten up and recognize when they’re being pranked.

We support the right of community members to make recordings of public meetings and post them online – and record any part of the making of the public’s business – because our lives depend on that business being fair, legal and beneficial. Public scrutiny acts as a shield.

Most persons elected to office or appointed to committees do not depend on public services. Sure, they may be cashing a public salary to pay bills, but they have options. People with disabilities, people recovering from mental illness and addictions, often do not have options and are entirely dependent on the public welfare system. Our medical care, our housing, our food, our protection from both the law and perpetrators, come from this public business. As we are not represented at the table, we need to learn, follow and understand every iota of public business that affects us.

But why the second version? Why not be satisfied with the high-quality recording made by the committee?

Three important reasons we document you.

One: Those high-quality recordings are routinely deleted from government servers. When Sam Adams succeeded Tom Potter, dozens of recordings of meetings about routine police harm to people with mental illness were wiped away. When the Portland Tribune and Willamette Week recently updated their websites, thousands of articles and photos vanished. Local TV and radio empty content from their sites every news cycle.

Who cares? News by definition is ephemeral. Piles just lying around are unnavigable and unhelpful. We need to move on into the future. Set aside grievances and focus on now.

We care. These documents – whether we agree with them or not – are our history. Articles, photos, recordings, tell the story of what happened to us. They are often clumsy, not created in the way we would like to tell the story, but they are what we have for now. At some point in the future a careful and thoughtful historian will arrive and make sense of these days. So for now, we collect in preparation for that effort. Now your history is ours.

Second: Our local media stopped covering government business over a decade ago. Both the mainstream media and the so-called alternative media are almost exclusively interested in scandal, conflict and scoops. They don’t provide unbiased analysis as advertised; they never did and never will. The future of journalism is flotsam in the swarm, picked over by aggregators and curators, led by Snowden and hackers and public records requestors. The cellphone takes back the power, just a little bit, in a jiggly hostile gesture, but it is ours and not theirs.

Finally: The way the pocket camera or cellphone is held is a new gesture which says something substantial about this generation. Held out at arms length it could be intended as some sort of collective shield charm by the internet swarm to ward off evil, as a crucifix or garlic may have done in other story lines. Held out at arms length in the midst of confrontation during a conversation about police brutality it becomes also a weapon, symbolizing a gun, to slay an opponent. The irony of mental illness advocates pointing cameras at police is fierce. Note: When advocates point cameras at advocates, the police sit back and chuckle.

The decorum of the police oversight meetings in Portland collapsed because the structure was designed and built with the goal of containment and control. It was built without the full and equal participation of people directly harmed by the city – those due an apology and reform. That apology has not occurred. That reform has not occurred.

In response to challenging words the city has produced yet more barriers to reform, more lawyers and rules.

To expect decorum now is ridiculous. No justice no peace, nothing about us without us.

Jason Renaud and Jenny Westberg are members of the Mental Health Association of Portland.

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Volunteers Needed: PAIMI Advisory Council

Disability Rights Oregon’s Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Mental Illness Program (PAIMI) program is looking for new members to serve on our PAIMI Council. The Council works to advise Disability Rights Oregon staff, develop program objectives and priorities, assess program performance, and educate the public about Disability Rights Oregon’s purpose, priorities and activities.

The PAIMI Council seeks members with the following qualifications:

  • Family member of a person receiving mental health services
  • Family member of a minor who is receiving or has received mental health services
  • Attorney
  • Mental Health Professional
  • The PAIMI Council meets 6 times per year.

    For more information and an application, visit the Disability Rights Oregon website at https://droregon.org/dro-seeks-members-for-mental-health-advisory-council/

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    DOJ-driven PDX Police Oversight Begins To Collapse

    Job Opening: Compliance Officer/Community Liaison & the Community Oversight Advisory Board Chair

    Posted: 6/17/2016 Location: Portland Metro Closing Date: open until filled Industry: Nonprofit Type: Part Time

    Background:
    Rosenbaum and Watson, LLP has contracted with the City of Portland to evaluate the implementation of the Settlement Agreement (SA) between the United States Department of Justice and the City of Portland, Oregon, Case No. 3:12-cv-02265-SI, filed 12/17/12. Rosenbaum & Watson, LLP serves as the “Compliance Officer and Community Liaison” (COCL) under this Settlement Agreement (paragraph 160). The Agreement requires the creation of a “Community Oversight Advisory Board” (COAB) to “leverage the ideas, talent, experience, and expertise of the community” (paragraph 141) to provide oversight and input into this reform process (See Agreement for details). Furthermore, the Agreement states that “The COAB shall report to the COCL. The COCL will chair the COAB, preside over COAB meetings, take and count votes, and perform such other activities as are necessary for the efficient operation of the COAB.” (Paragraph 144).
    Rosenbaum and Watson, LLP is seeking to hire a person to fill the position of Chair of the Community Oversight Advisory Board and Community Liaison.

    Position Description:
    The primary responsibilities of this position are to: (a) chair regular business meetings of the COAB and COAB town hall meetings; (b) ensure the efficient operation of the COAB; and (c) facilitate community engagement. This includes working collaboratively and efficiently with members of the COCL, COAB, the mental health community, the community at large, the Portland Police Bureau, the City of Portland, the Department of Justice, Albina Ministerial Alliance Coalition (AMAC), and other stakeholders in this process. This individual will also work with the COCL to identify and correct any problems that interfere with the efficient operation of the COAB or community engagement.

    Qualifications:
    Desired qualifications include:
    • Ability to effectively manage public meetings
    • Ability to facilitate a diverse group of COAB members in service to their charge as outlined in the Settlement Agreement
    • Sensitivity to issues of mental illness and race/ethnicity during police-community interactions
    • Ability to prevent and/or mediate conflict between individuals or groups
    • Ability to work collaboratively with the Portland Police Bureau to discuss issues and oversee reforms
    • Ability to work effectively with the COCL team to ensure the efficient operation of the COAB

    Application Process:
    Interested persons should submit a resume and cover letter to: Dr. Dennis Rosenbaum, COCL, 525 NE Oregon Street, Suite 250, Portland, OR 97232. Applications can also be submitted electronically to: coabchair@gmail.com.

    This position is open until filled. Candidates who apply before June 30, 2016 will be considered first. The expectation is that this position will require 20 hours of work per week. Compensation is based on experience and expertise. The individual hired will be a consultant to Rosenbaum & Watson, LLP.

    Salary: Information not posted


    Citizens’ panel overseeing Portland police reforms needs reforms of its own

    Editorial Board – The Oregonian, June 16, 2016

    The insults and jeering that disrupted last week’s meeting of the Community Oversight Advisory Board marked a low point in the 16-month history of the panel. But unruly public crowds aren’t the only problems that have plagued the citizen board tasked with monitoring Portland’s compliance with a federal police-reforms settlement.

    City leadership’s attention to the panel is sporadic, despite the city holding ultimate responsibility for its effectiveness. Several board members have resigned over the past year and others are now calling for a temporary halt to cope with the dysfunction, as The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Maxine Bernstein reported. The drama at the latest meeting, at which audience members shouted at the board and interrupted its work multiple times, only highlights the question: Can this board be saved?

    The turmoil facing board members contrasts sharply with the bumptious words that Portland’s leaders have used over the years to describe the creation of the independent oversight board. The idea for the panel was part of a 2012 agreement with the federal justice department to settle claims that Portland Police engaged in a pattern of excessive force against people with mental illness. Community members and a city-hired compliance officer, not a court-appointed monitor, would track Portland’s progress in implementing reforms, solicit community feedback and offer recommendations for improving police practices. The board, many have bragged, was a first-of-its-kind solution that could be a model for cities seeking to be accountable to their communities.

    It turns out, unfortunately, that self-congratulatory words don’t do much in the way of providing concrete guidance.

    Read the rest of Citizens’ panel overseeing Portland police reforms needs reforms of its own


    Community police oversight panel member recommends summer ‘hiatus’ to move past ‘dysfunction’

    The Oregonian, June 16, 2016

    In the wake of a disastrous Community Oversight Advisory Board meeting last week, member Avel Gordly has suggested the panel formed to monitor federally-mandated police reforms take a hiatus this summer to regroup and move past the “current dysfunction and disruptions.”

    But attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice, which worked with the city to help craft the community-based board, have advised its leaders that any such decision would have to be made by the full board.

    The board’s executive committee meets Friday morning to discuss this idea.

    Here’s former State Senator Avel Gordly’s full email suggesting a hiatus:

      The City needs to stop the COAB work -temporarily- for a reset. There is an opportunity for the Office of Equity and Human Rights to step in as facilitator to help define and construct, (guided by community members), how the COAB moves forward. No new members should be appointed until Mayor Wheeler is in office. I plan to continue my commitment until my term expires. These are my thoughts today about how to begin moving past the current dysfunction and disruptions. Your work, Kathleen, Amy and Mandi has been very effective in laying a foundation to build on. Be proud of that. I am grateful for your thoughtful, principled leadership. You have worked yourselves to exhaustion and as a team supporting the COAB (and the community) have been underappreciated for all that you have given and sacrificed. Again, these are my thoughts for consideration and I trust that we remaining COAB members will find our way forward… together. Our City needs this effort at police reform to be successful…we are privileged along with community partners to help make that happen. Peace, love, light and blessings, Avel

    Read the rest of Community police oversight panel member recommends summer ‘hiatus’ to move past ‘dysfunction’


    COAB meeting degenerates into free-for-all

    The Oregonian, June 10, 2016

    Order collapses at 6-9-16 COAB meeting

    Order collapses at 6-9-16 COAB meeting

    Vulgar insults hurled. Name calling. People shouting out comments while others had the floor to speak. Repeated demands for the meeting to come to order. Frequent breaks in board action to avoid an escalating crisis.

    That pretty much summed up Thursday night’s meeting of the Portland Community Oversight Advisory Board, a group created to monitor police reforms required by the federal government.

    Nearly a year and a half after it was set up as part of a settlement agreement that the city reached with the U.S. Department of Justice, two leaders of the board have resigned. Members are frustrated by lack of feedback from Justice officials to a host of recommendations they’ve made about police policies, training and oversight. And the public feels further alienated.

    “This is ridiculous,” outgoing chair Kathleen Saadat mumbled before calling a break when several attendees approached the roped-off barrier set up in front of the board members’ seats and yelled at one of the members while filming on video cameras or phones.

    Read the rest of COAB meeting degenerates into free-for-all



    Editorial: Police oversight needs correction

    The Oregonian Editorial Board, June 10, 2016

    The devolution of a citizens’ panel to monitor police reforms required by the federal government is a disappointment. But that’s an understatement.

    Thursday night’s meeting of the Portland Community Oversight Advisory Board, birthed following the city’s settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the use of excessive force by police against people with mental illness, turned into a disruptive circus. And it raises deeper questions yet about transparency in government.

    Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian/OregonLive reported that a source of ire among board members was in being ignored recently by Mayor Charlie Hales and Police Chief Larry O’Dea following the board’s request that the city get rid of a rule allowing any officer involved in a deadly shooting to take a 48-hour delay before withstanding an internal affairs interview.

    Silence in the face of such a request equals: You don’t matter. And so it’s no surprise that an attempt Thursday by a City Hall staffer to explain the rule was met with a harrumph and an audience shout that City Hall, when it comes to police matters, has no power.

    A citizens panel, however, can have great power: to learn, to reflect, to propose, to insist, to help Portland grow. It’s unclear at this point, though, whether this particular advisory board can rise to its challenge while being so marginalized.


    Saadat, Moreland-Capuia resign from the COCL – COAB

    Kathleen Saadat, and employee of the Chicago-based team of Rosenbaum & Watson, LLC, who were awarded the contract by Mayor Charlie Hales against community advice, has resigned her position as chair of the Community Oversight Advisory Board.

    The Community Oversight Advisory Board, or COAB, and the contracted Compliance Office and Community Liaison, or COCL, are generated by the proposed settlement of United States v. City of Portland. That suit was invited by City commissioner Dan Saltzman & then-Mayor Sam Adams when they ran out of skills to negotiate with the Portland Police Association over the deaths of James Chasse, Aaron Campbell and other people in mental health crisis at the hands of police.

    Saadat, a former city of Portland and Multnomah County mediator, took the position in June 2015 after former Oregon Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz resigned the position after four months.

    Here is Saadat’s letter to the members of the COAB:

    May 31, 2016

    Colleagues

    Effective June 24, 2016, I am stepping down as Community Liaison and Chair of the Community Oversight Advisory Board. This has been a truly worthwhile time for me. I know a lot more about the world than I did when I came into this position. Thank you for being my teachers. I of course want you, the Portland COAB to go forward and reach the highest of heights and be the most amazingly wonderful COAB there could possibly be, because you are the best and because, as Senator Gordly said last week, “the City needs us”.

    The City will always need thoughtful, committed, tenacious and inspired folks to help it grow into its ever expanding potential. I believe in the power of people and I believe in the Portland COAB’s ability to help shape the future of policing in the City of Portland. Thank you for the things you do to make our City better and for the past year of working together.

    KEEP ON KEEPING ON

    Psychiatrist and COAB member Alicia Moreland-Capuia has been nominated to serve on the Portland Development Commission. Her resignation from the COAB was circulated today.

    June 1, 2016

    Mayor Charlie Hales
    City Hall
    1221 SW 4th Avenue
    Portland, Oregon, 97204

    Re: Resignation from the Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB)

    Greetings Mayor Hales:

    The city of Portland has a tremendous opportunity to do something great and transformative in the arena of police reform. The Community Oversight Advisory Board (COAB) consists of a phenomenal group of dedicated citizens committed to the cause of justice and impactful change. Everyone that comes to the table, daily/weekly, is interested in improving the safety and livability of our city for ALL people.

    I’ve had the great privilege of serving as co-chair of the Mental Health Crisis Response Subcommittee (MHCRS) of the COAB and I (along with the group) can boast considerable accomplishments to include making robust revisions and recommendations to PPB’s mental health directives and COCL quarterly reports. MHCRS also allowed me to actively and richly engage with community. I listened to, heard and felt their pain and also witnessed their great hope in the prospect of change. I believe in the work of the COAB and hold the conviction that it will attain every goal as mandated by the settlement agreement and beyond.

    I’ve served a year and 5 months of a 2 year term with the COAB. At this time and under these current conditions, I am stepping down from my role as co-chair of the MHCRS and appointee to the COAB.

    It has been my absolute pleasure to serve the city as a member of the COAB, I am certain that the great work will continue!

    Best regards,
    Dr. Alisha Moreland-Capuia, MD

    Cc: Kathleen Sadaat
    Dennis Rosenbaum


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    What happened to Robert Wickizer

    Robert Wickizer

    Robert Wickizer

    Robert Wickizer, 70, was killed by police May 30, 2016, as they responded to a disturbance call in Tualatin. Officers said to be “involved” – one or more of whom shot Wickizer to death – were Tualatin officer Erich French, Beaverton officer Charles Wujcik, Beaverton officer Aaron Oberst, Washington County Sergeant Chris Schweigert, Hillsboro officer Anthony Cristofaro, and Tigard officer Nathaniel Will. According to Wickizer’s son, his dad was a loving father who had bipolar disorder.

    +++

    Officers shoot man threatening others

    News release from Tualatin Police Department, May 30, 2016

    Scene of Tualatin shooting

    Scene of Tualatin shooting

    On May 30, 2016, at 4:15PM, Officers from the Tualatin Police Department responded to the 18000 block of SW Cheyenne Way in Tualatin for a disturbance call. The caller reported that Robert Wickizer, 70, was armed with a firearm, threatening family members at the residence.

    As the officers were responding, two female family members fled the residence to a neighbor’s house. The neighbor allowed the women in and armed himself as Mr. Wickizer broke a window and attempted to force his way into the residence. The neighbor fired a warning shot towards the door in an attempt to scare Mr. Wickizer away from the residence.

    As the officers arrived on scene, they located Mr. Wickizer outside of the neighbor’s residence, armed with the gun. Mr. Wickizer continued his efforts to force his way into the neighbor’s residence. Officers attempted to negotiate with the Mr. Wickizer, who continued to ignore the officer’s commands. Based upon Mr. Wickizer’s continued actions, officers used lethal force against him. Mr. Wickizer was pronounced deceased at the scene.

    No family members or officers were injured during the incident.

    The Washington County Major Crimes Team is investigating the shooting. The officers involved have been placed on routine Administrative Leave.

    Additional information will be released as it becomes available.

    +++

    Police kill armed man chasing family in Tualatin

    KOIN 6 News, May 30, 2016

    A 70-year-old man who had been drinking and shooting his gun was shot to death by police Monday afternoon in Tualatin.

    Robert Wickizer had a gun and was threatening his family members in the 18100 block of Cheyenne Way around 4:30 p.m., officials said. Two women ran from the house and a neighbor let them in. Wickizer broke a window and tried to get into the neighbor’s house, but the neighbor grabbed his gun and fired a warning shot toward the door.

    Officers from multiple departments arrived and saw Wickizer, armed with a gun, outside the neighbor’s house, Capt. Greg Pickering with the Tualatin PD said. Wickizer kept trying to get into the neighbor’s house while officers tried to negotiate with him.

    But he ignored police commands and was shot by police. He died at the scene.

    Residents were told to stay inside their homes during the incident. No officers were injured.

    Police were initially called to the area about an intoxicated man who was firing shots. A tactical team from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office went to the scene along with other police and paramedics.

    “It’s a very tragic event,” Pickering told KOIN 6 News. “We always try to resolve situations as quickly and safely as we can but this was a tragedy for everyone,”

    Investigators have not said how many officers or which police departments were involved. Police from Tualatin, Beaverton, Tigard and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, among others, responded to the call. The officers involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, standard procedure in these cases.

    KOIN 6 News will have additional details as the situation unfolds.

    +++

    Tualatin family says man shot and killed by police suffered from mental illness

    KATU News, May 31, 2016

    The family of a 70-year-old man who was shot and killed by police on Memorial Day suffered from a mental illness.

    Police said Robert Wickizer threatened his estranged wife and mother-in-law at their home Monday afternoon and was carrying a gun.

    The two women ran to a neighbor’s house, where police say Wickizer then broke a window, trying to get in.

    Tualatin Police officers said they tried to negotiate with him, but he ignored them. That’s when officers shot and killed him.

    Bob and Chris Bryant live across the street and saw the whole incident.

    “My gosh, they asked him at least 50 times, maybe more than that, to put the gun down and step away, and he just wouldn’t do it,” said Bryant. “They did everything they could not to have it happen. I thought they did a really good job they way they did handle it. They were kinda left with no choice.”

    Wickizer’s son told KATU News his dad was a loving father and was bipolar. He said his dad was recently getting help from an agency that specializes in veteran’s care. He said this was very tragic for everyone involved.

    The officers involved are on paid administrative leave, pending the investigation.

    +++

    Medical examiner: Man shot by police in Tualatin died of wounds to chest, abdomen

    The Oregonian, June 1, 2016

    A 70-year-old man fatally shot by police in Tualatin on Memorial Day died of gunshot wounds to his chest and abdomen, the state medical examiner’s office said Wednesday.

    Dr. Karen Gunson, who conducted the autopsy, declined to say how many times Robert Wickizer was shot, citing the ongoing investigation into the shooting. She ruled his death a homicide.

    Wickizer was armed with a gun and trying to break into another neighbor’s house, where two of his family members had taken refuge Monday afternoon, police said. At one point, Wickizer broke one of the neighbor’s windows and tried to force his way inside, said Capt. Greg Pickering, a Tualatin Police spokesman.

    Continue reading at OregonLive.com

    +++

    Officers named in shooting death of Tualatin man

    KATU.com, June 7, 2016

    The Tualatin Police Department released the identities of the officers involved in the fatal shooting of a 70-year-old man on Memorial Day.

    Police said Robert Wickizer threatened his estranged wife and mother-in-law at their home and was carrying a gun.

    The two women ran to a neighbor’s house, where police said Wickizer then broke a window and tried to get in.

    Officers arrived and said that Wickizer was armed with a gun and still trying to get inside his neighbor’s home. Police said they tried to negotiate with him, but he ignored them.

    Based on his actions police said they opened fire, killing Wickizer.

    The law enforcement members involved in the incident are Tualatin officer Erich French with 16 years of service, Beaverton officer Charles Wujcik with 17 years of service, Beaverton Officer Aaron Oberst with 17 years of service, Washington County Sergeant Chris Schweigert with 18 years of service, Hillsboro Officer Anthony Cristofaro with seven years of service, and Tigard officer Nathaniel Will with 9 years of service.

    The officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave, which is standard practice in police shootings.

    +++

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    ADA suit charges Bend hospital fired surgeon due to psychiatric disability

    St. Charles Medical Center

    St. Charles Medical Center

    A prominent cardiothoracic surgeon is suing St. Charles Health System under the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging the health system fired him in November because of his mental impairment.

    Dr. John Blizzard, whose sudden departure caused heart and lung surgeries to be temporarily diverted to Portland, seeks more than $14.5 million in federal court. He says St. Charles failed to accommodate his disability, discriminated against him and unlawfully required him to undergo psychological testing.

    Ultimately, Blizzard’s complaint alleges St. Charles fired him on Nov. 5 because of behavioral issues stemming from the disability.

    Lisa Goodman, a spokeswoman for St. Charles, said the health system does not comment on pending litigation. St. Charles declined in November to disclose the reason for Blizzard’s departure. At the time, he was St. Charles’ only full-time cardiothoracic surgeon. Two other surgeons worked at the hospital part time.

    Greg Lynch, one of two attorneys with the Bend law firm Miller Nash Graham & Dunn LLP representing Blizzard in the case, said conflicts with fellow staff members preceded the surgeon’s termination, but he declined to describe the incidents in detail.

    “The unfortunate and completely avoidable circumstance that precipitated this lawsuit will negatively affect a significant number of people, including patients and staff,” Lynch said.

    Before his departure, Blizzard was among the hospital’s highest paid employees. In 2014, the most recent year for which tax documents are available, his base salary was about $942,000, and his total compensation, including things like retirement pay and other benefits, surpassed $1 million.

    According to Blizzard’s complaint, St. Charles recognized the surgeon was having interpersonal problems as early as 2008. In 2013, the complaint alleges, the health system required he undergo a psychological evaluation or face discipline.

    Following “intensive evaluations,” psychologist William Pace from Golden Valley, Minnesota, determined Blizzard had mental impairments that limited, among other things, his ability to interact with others, regulate emotional responses, maintain relationships and deal with personal and professional stress, according to the complaint. Lynch declined to say whether Pace provided an official diagnosis or diagnoses following his evaluation.

    Blizzard’s complaint says both Pace and Dr. Kent Neff, of Portland, whose website describes him as an expert on managing disruptive behavior, determined Blizzard was still fit to fulfill his duties as a cardiothoracic surgeon.

    The complaint alleges Pace recommended St. Charles obtain a behavioral coach who could help Blizzard improve his ability to interact with others and regulate his emotional responses. Pace also allegedly recommended the health system host regular meetings to evaluate Blizzard’s performance.

    Blizzard’s complaint says not only did St. Charles fail to implement those recommendations, the health system withheld from Blizzard the results of his psychological evaluation and its recommendations, while at the same time increasing his stress level by having no other full-time cardiothoracic surgeons on staff.

    The lawsuit says St. Charles violated its own medical staff bylaws by failing to provide Blizzard a letter notifying him of any noncompliance with rules, regulations or clinical protocols. It also accuses the health system of violating its own policy of engaging in a process of informal discussions and counseling to resolve physician qualification issues.

    At the time of Blizzard’s termination, the lawsuit alleges the health system was “well aware” that Blizzard’s behavioral issues were the product of his disability.

    Blizzard’s lawsuit seeks $1.5 million in past and future economic damages, including lost wages, and $3 million for emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment and damage to his reputation. The complaint warns that those amounts could increase over time. It also seeks $10 million in punitive damages and for Blizzard to be reinstated to his former position with full back pay and benefits. It also seeks reimbursement for attorney, expert witness and litigation expenses.

    The lawsuit also seeks to preclude the health system from subjecting Blizzard or other similarly situated employees from unlawful employment discrimination in the future.

    St. Charles announced in April it had hired Dr. Matt Slater, previously director of Oregon Health & Science University’s complex value program, to fill the position formerly held by Blizzard. Before Slater assumed his role, Dr. Angelo Vlessis, another cardiothoracic surgeon who worked part time in Bend and part time at OHSU in Portland, took over Blizzard’s full-time duty.

    St. Charles diverted four urgent surgeries — two heart surgeries and two lung surgeries — to Portland between Oct. 31 and Nov. 10, when the surgeries resumed. Other nonurgent procedures were rescheduled.

    Blizzard received his medical degree in 1989 from the University of Mississippi and performed residencies at Emory University and East Tennessee State University, according to the Oregon Medical Board. He completed his cardiovascular fellowship at OHSU in 1996. His state medical license remains active, and the board’s website lists no disciplinary action.

    Dr. Pamela Wible, a primary care physician in Eugene who advocates for awareness of mental illness and suicide among physicians and other medical professionals, said cases like Blizzard’s reinforce physicians’ fear of losing their jobs if they’re open about their struggles.

    “It’s reinforcing a stigma that really puts us back into the dark ages on mental health issues,” she said. “I really do feel like medical institutions should be on the leading edge of destigmatizing mental illness and normalizing all of our mental health issues.”

    There’s a misconception that the ADA only applies to workers at companies like Toyota or Wal-Mart, and not hospital employees, residents, medical students and even cardiothoracic surgeons, Wible said.

    “Just because you’ve got some high-level degree doesn’t mean you don’t need the ADA to come to support you when you’re being discriminated against, if that’s the case,” she said.

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    A life in free fall

    The Daily Astorian, May 30, 2016, updated June 7, 2016

    Vincent Davidson-Gilbert graduation

    Vincent Davidson-Gilbert

    It didn’t take long for Vincent Davidson-Gilbert’s life to fall apart once he starting using drugs again.

    The former Seaside resident had a house, a good job and an eight-year marriage. Though he went to prison at 18 for a spate of crimes committed during his first streak of drug abuse in Portland, he’d spent several years living as a productive member of North Coast society.

    But in September he lost his supervisor job at Home Depot in Warrenton. Then he began to get high, first with black-market oxycodone, then with heroin and methamphetamines. Everything in his world began to crumble.

    Vincent Davidson-Gilbert

    Vincent Davidson-Gilbert

    “It happened all so quick,” he said.

    As his relapse worsened, Vincent asked his mother, Kathleen Gilbert, for help. Together, they explored different treatment options. She’d been through this search before with her older son, Devin.

    They checked with Astoria Pointe, KLEAN in Long Beach, Washington, and elsewhere for inpatient treatment, and with Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare and the Oregon Health Authority for outpatient care.

    But with no insurance, little money and drugs overriding his judgment, Vincent felt powerless.

    “I know I needed help, but I wasn’t able to do anything; I was really on the drugs,” he said.

    Meanwhile, his usage intensified. Drug-induced drama played out as he mixed with dealers and other junkies, made unwise decisions and frightened his loved ones.

    “In six months, (he) completely destroyed his life,” said Kathleen, a sterile supply technician at Providence Seaside Hospital who often sees patients in the throes of drug abuse.

    Before Vincent could get help, he was arrested Jan. 25 — his 27th birthday — for burglary and for being a felon in possession of a firearm. After his family posted his bail, Vincent committed a second burglary, in which his estranged wife was named among the witnesses.

    On Friday, Circuit Court Judge Cindee Matyas sentenced Davidson-Gilbert to 5 1/2 years in prison.

    It didn’t matter that Vincent’s first felony occurred almost a decade ago. It didn’t matter that he had volunteered for a local food bank and helped Providence Seaside Hospital set up for community parades. It didn’t matter that he was a loving son and brother, and a much-loved uncle to his niece and nephews.

    What mattered is that Vincent was a felon caught with guns, and, whatever the bitter backstory behind the burglaries, law enforcement determined he met the legal definition of a burglar.

    “It’s horrible,” Kathleen said. “And he did it to himself.”

    Without means

    Stories like Vincent’s are depressingly common in Clatsop County and throughout Oregon: A person abuses painkillers before turning to harder drugs, has trouble finding or affording proper treatment, engages in criminal activity as the addiction becomes a lifestyle, and ends up in prison.

    “It makes me wonder what would’ve happened three months before he got arrested if we could have helped him get into treatment,” Kathleen said.

    Instead, Vincent and his mother were struck by the limited options available in the county for addicts without means.

    Although both outpatient and inpatient treatment are available, most inpatient treatment facilities require private insurance, which the unemployed Vincent didn’t have.

    Private inpatient care is pricey — “anywhere between a couple of hundred dollars a day to a couple of thousand dollars a day,” said Rory Gerard, who sits on the county’s Human Services Advisory Council as the mental health and addiction representative.

    “These people, they’re barely scraping by and buying their drugs,” Kathleen said. “They don’t have $6,000 to pay for treatment.”

    Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare is the sole treatment center in Clatsop County that accepts insurance through the Oregon Health Plan — often the only insurance option for low-income Oregonians.

    However, the agency has come under heavy fire lately for shortfalls in mental health treatment and drug and alcohol dependency services.

    Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare employs numerous treatment providers, but most are not licensed. Rather, they work under the supervision of someone who is licensed.

    In other words, the agency doesn’t have enough providers with the right level of credentialing to offer adequate treatment, Gerard said.

    The upshot for patients, according to Temojai Inhofe, Vincent’s attorney: “They’re assessed by people who do not necessarily hold the qualifications to assess them. They are then treated by people who don’t necessarily hold the qualifications to treat them.”

    Addicts who need professional treatment the most — people like Vincent — may be the least likely to get it.

    Waitlisted

    Vincent and his family had decided that what he really needed was inpatient treatment, a 24/7 care environment where he could stay for a month or more. He was in the process of applying for the Oregon Health Plan when he was jailed.

    Had Vincent enrolled in the plan, he would still have faced another problem: There are no inpatient facilities in the county that accept it.

    “If you are poor in this community, and you need an inpatient treatment program, you have to leave the community,” said Inhofe, who works with indigent clients.

    A person who ventures outside of the county for treatment will likely face waiting lists for facility beds.

    “You can’t do anything for them until a bed opens up — possibly in Bend, possibly in Pendleton, possibly in Eugene,” she said.

    When Gerard worked for Clatsop Behavioral Healthcare, which refers clients to inpatient facilities, some people waited months for a bed.

    “Even though you may want treatment, you may have the money for treatment, you’re going to be waitlisted,” he said.

    Addicts with children have it particularly rough, Inhofe said. The children may get placed in foster care while their parents seek treatment in another county. With waiting periods often lasting 90 or more days, followed by a three-month treatment program, the process may keep them separated for a long time.

    “We’re looking at six months out, after their children have been removed, that they’re not in any kind of position to be a parental resource — primarily because this county has no resources,” she said. “It’s so infuriating.”

    Gerard noted that Astoria has several marijuana shops but no inpatient beds for low-income addicts ready to clean themselves up.

    “Our priorities seem a little skewed,” he said. “I’d love to see that tax money that they’re going to hit on the pot shops go to drug and alcohol treatment in our community.”

    Gerard said that, if a person wants help, it can be made available. “It may not be locally. You may have to travel. And you’ve got to be dogmatic about it.”

    Typically, though, that’s not what addicts are about. “They want to use,” he said. “It really falls back on the family.”

    Hoping for treatment

    This week, Vincent will be transferred from Clatsop County Jail to Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville. He will undergo various tests and get assigned to a prison where he will serve the majority of his sentence.

    Because he is locked up, Vincent is clean. But, since his arrest, he hasn’t had access to the kind of drug and alcohol treatment that he and family believe he needs to stay sober over the long run.

    In Tillamook County Jail — where Vincent was briefly held because the beds at the Clatsop jail were maxed out — inmates with addiction issues can work with a jail transition specialist named Tami Long.

    “When you’re talking severe addiction — to the point that you’re being incarcerated over and over again — they don’t stay clean long enough to engage in any kind of treatment, so it’s just this vicious cycle,” she said.

    Long, who helped develop the position last year, meets with interested inmates shortly after their booking, evaluates them, determines what their treatment needs and goals are, and creates a transition plan with them. She gives the plan to their attorney, who presents it to the court. The information may influence how the inmate’s sentencing is carried out.

    A court may, for example, postpone an inmate’s sentencing and grant a conditional release to receive treatment. The goal is to reduce recidivism rates, though Long said the program is still too new to know whether this is happening.

    A comparable service doesn’t yet exist for inmates at Clatsop County Jail.

    Vincent and Kathleen hope the prison he is sent to will, in a few years, deem him eligible for a treatment program in the final stretch his sentence.

    “I just hate the idea of him losing five years without him getting any treatment,” she said.

    Oregon spends about $30,000 a year per inmate, according to 2013 data from the state Department of Corrections. Kathleen thinks that money would be better spent on drug treatment as a means of crime prevention.

    President Barack Obama, alarmed by the rise in prescription drug and heroin abuse across the nation, in February proposed devoting $1.1 billion over two years to expand treatment and prevent overdoses. The president wants to increase patient access to buprenorphine, a medication used to treat opioid disorders, and make mental health and substance abuse treatment comparable to medical and surgical benefits for people in Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

    In April, Gov. Kate Brown signed a bill into law that will help doctors in Oregon use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database to flag patients who might be susceptible to drug abuse.

    The Oregon Health Authority reported that prescription painkillers were involved in more drug overdose deaths than any other type of drug in 2013. The state has ranked among the highest in the nation in the nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers.

    Underlying issues

    Davidson-Gilbert knows he must be held accountable for his actions. His crimes, though not drug-related — he wasn’t caught selling or possessing, for example — are drug-associated, the sort of misdeeds addicts perpetrate when their lives go into free fall.

    Inhofe said the criminal justice system has “criminalized the mental health disease of addiction.”

    “Not directly,” she said. “But the effect is that people who have addiction issues end up serving time in prison because of what they do to feed their addiction, what they do when they’re under the influence of their addiction.”

    Even in a world with abundant and inexpensive treatment options, addicts would still need to be asked one fundamental question: Why did they turn to drugs to begin with?

    “A lot of drug treatment programs don’t necessarily delve underneath and deal with the underlying issues,” Inhofe said. “Most of these people need therapy. Once you go through detox, you’re physiologically done with the addiction. It’s the emotional and mental problems that caused the seeking out of that particular Band-Aid in the first place that need to really be fixed.”

    Asked why he first took drugs as a teenager, Vincent said he was a “young, dumb kid” who would try anything put in front of him.

    But Kathleen also suspects that the death of her oldest son, Mark, in a car accident at 19 — when Vincent was 11 and Devin 13 — precipitated both boys’ later drug use. Devin, who has overdosed several times, is in an outpatient program in Arizona.

    Though devastated that Vincent will soon return to prison, Kathleen said she is grateful he didn’t end up fatally overdosing as a number of young men and women from the community have recently.

    “There’s a huge perception that people that are addicts are solely choosing to be addicts. They don’t understand the physical part of it,” she said. “The addiction takes over.”

    If Vincent could have given himself advice six months ago — or to anyone tempted to use — it would be to “try to find any resource you can.”

    “Find something that you care about, to freaking want to change what you’re doing at that time,” he said. “Even if everything’s going bad, there has to be something good in your life, that you can look forward to, instead of just drugs and alcohol. Or being in prison.”

    His choices haunt him. “I don’t know why I didn’t just go find another job.”

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    Multnomah County Driving Surge of Patients Sent to State Mental Hospital

    From The Lund Report, June 2, 2016

    More patients are being admitted to the state mental hospital who’ve been arrested, some of them from petty misdemeanors, and account for nearly the entire growth at the facility, which is busting at the seams and turning away people who could be civilly committed.
    Chris Gray

    The surge in patients at the Oregon State Hospital is being driven almost entirely by patients from Multnomah County who have been arrested but need to be mentally stabilized before they can stand trial.

    More than a third of those patients are being confined after allegedly committing petty misdemeanors.

    The Lund Report retrieved data from the state mental hospital that shows the patient count of “aid & assist” patients from Multnomah County surged from 30 in June 2015 to 70 such patients nine months later (March 2016), as the overall population grew from about 160 to about 200.

    The number of Multnomah County patients has since declined to about 53, but only one other county has shown a significant growth in — Marion, which includes Salem. But 76 percent of these patients from Marion County those are accused of felonies, the group where the state hospital is often the only place equipped to treat them.

    From 2002 to 2011, the number of people at the state hospital awaiting trial hovered consistently between 67 and 88, but since then, the population has grown by leaps and bounds, to 114 in 2012 to 150 in 2014, 190 in September 2015 and 210 as of April 2016.

    The growth of patients who have been charged but not convicted of a crime have been exponential, most of the state has not contributed to this problem. “This is not a statewide issue,” Greg Roberts, the superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital, told The Lund Report.

    Capt. Steve Alexander, the public information officer for the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, was unable to respond by press time to explain about what may have changed at his county to explain the uptick in people with mental illnesses sent to the state hospital while they await trial.

    Roberts explained that often police officers believe they’re doing the right thing by piping mentally ill people to Salem, but in reality, these patients in this class are only stabilized to the point that they can appear in court to “aid and assist their attorney in their defense,” and are not offered the step-down plan of other patients.

    “The police actually believe they’re helping the person,” Roberts said. “The person needs help, but they’re not committable. The only way to get them into treatment is to arrest them.”

    Hospital Unable to Treat Others

    The situation is putting the state’s capacity to serve mentally ill people in its two institutions to the brink, forcing open a new wing for aid & assist clients at the central hospital in Salem and nudging the state to open a new treatment corridor at the auxiliary hospital in Junction City. Meanwhile, the Salem hospital has less room for people who’ve been civilly committed.

    “The wait list for civil patients has significantly increased,” Roberts said, leaving many of these patients stuck at local hospital emergency rooms and psychiatric wards and in need of more intensive care. Patients can be civilly committed when they are a violent threat to themselves or others.

    Screenshot 2016-06-03 at 8.50.34 AM

    Because of the acute nature of “aid & assist” patients’ mental illness, they can only be treated in Salem, not Junction City. “[These] patients are the most expensive because of all the evaluation we do,” Roberts said.

    State law also requires that the aid & assist patients, along with patients who’ve been found guilty except for insanity be treated before other patients not accused of committing a crime.

    When the Salem was opened in the last decade, planners projected the “aid & assist” population would remain stable, while the “guilty except for insanity” group would grow. Instead, that population has declined, which has allowed the hospital to take on more “aid & assist” patients and has kept the problem from becoming worse, Roberts said.

    State to Triage Problem Counties

    Last month, Oregon Health Authority Director Lynne Saxton announced that the state would be working with the six counties with high numbers of patients to reduce their numbers. They include Multnomah, Washington, Marion, Lane, Douglas and Josephine.

    Lane and Washington have sent larger than average numbers of people accused of misdemeanors to the state hospital, while Washington County’s overall numbers are low for its size, but 42 percent had only been accused of petty crimes. Little Coos County had seven patients at the state hospital, and only two had been accused of felonies.

    More than three-quarters of the patients from Douglas and Marion counties, on the other hand, were accused of major crimes before they were sent to the hospital.

    Marion County has been touted as the model for counties and police agencies for handling people with mental illness in crisis. The state has funded crisis intervention teams at the Marion County Sheriff and Salem Police departments the past few years, and the Legislature recently funded an expansion of that model to Klamath County.

    Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, the chairman of the Oregon House Health Committee, told The Lund Report he hoped the counties would stop arresting mentally ill people on misdemeanors, and suggested the counties may be passing off their problems onto the state so that they don’t have to deal with them in their jails or psychiatric treatment centers.

    Greenlick Floats Charging Counties

    Greenlick said if the counties do not get this problem under control, he would support legislation requiring them to pay for the people they send to the Oregon State Hospital.

    Mobile crisis teams that allow law enforcement agencies to avoid sending mentally ill people to jail or the state mental hospital appear to be the best immediate response to the surface problem, but of course, at its root, the crisis grows out of a failing community mental health system in Oregon, where a lack of coordination and inconsistent funding have prevented local agencies from appropriately treating people with mental illness before they’re forced onto law enforcement.

    Fortunately, “The Legislature has approved a lot of money to support community health programs and supported housing,” Roberts said. “We’re on the right path it will just take time to develop these programs.”

    He said if these programs can be sustained and promoted, it will become unnecessary for many of his patients to come to the state institution.

    But it’s going to take more than just throwing money at the problem for Oregon to get results. The Affordable Care Act has also supplied federal funding to pay for the medical care of people in poverty, including mental health. And the coordinated care model was supposed to help the state’s Medicaid managed care organizations to treat mental disorders right along with other physical ailments.

    But some of the CCOs have made little progress, and the quality control metrics that ensure the CCOs are adequately treating mental health and not just dodging this issue are lacking. For the new Medicaid waiver before the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Reform, Saxton and Medicaid Director Lori Coyner plan to ask for more federal investment in the CCOs to help with mental health coordination.

    To see more of the data click here.

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    New members being recruited by Portland Commission on Disability

    The Portland Disability Commission is a segregated and diminished off-shoot of the Office of Equity and Human Rights and adjacent and subordinate to the Portland Human Rights Commission (which appears to have ceased to function). It has under-served people with mental illness and addiction since it’s inception.

    No members of the commission are people in recovery from mental illness, alcoholism or addiction. Those disabilities far outweigh all others.

    Every year, about 42.5 million American adults (or 18.2 percent of the total adult population in the United States) suffers from some mental illness, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Approximately 7.2 percent or 17 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older are alcoholic. 19.8 million Americans are addicted to marijuana —about 7.5 percent of people aged 12 or older. The number of cocaine addicts aged 12 or older was 1.5 million. About 595,000 people use methamphetamine. 2.1 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids, and an estimated 467,000 are addicted to heroin.

    New members being recruited by Portland Commission on Disability.

    Recruitment is open for four (4) vacancies on the Commission. The application may be submitted either in hard copy or digitally, following the instructions on page 5 of the application.

    READ & DOWNLOAD – Portland Commission on Disability application

    READ MORE – Portland Commission on Disability Actively Recruiting New Members

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