“Last Time Cascadia’s Predecessor Pulled Something Like This I Knew Two People Who Committed Suicide…”

From the Portland Mercury, May 22, 2008

That was mental health advocate Marian Drake, addressing County Chair Ted Wheeler yesterday afternoon during a two-hour meeting to talk about the financial collapse of the county’s giant mental health-care provider, Cascadia.

WHEELER: Met with mental health advocates yesterday…

Since the financial problems hit, many of Cascadia’s clients have been worried about the future of their housing and psychiatric services. Wheeler’s director of County Human Services Joanne Fuller said there’s still no firm plan for what to do with Cascadia next, but she said it’s likely Cascadia will be “a much smaller organization” once the county’s plan is put into effect—it’s likely, too, that Cascadia’s services will be farmed out to other providers across the county, she said. However, “the clients are our top priority,” she said. “We don’t want to destabilize things by moving quickly to make changes that then have negative impacts and hurt consumers.”

“Because of all the instability around services, there’s angst around that,” said Beckie Child of the Mental Health Association of America. “My concern is that people will go into crisis because of all this angst.” “It’s very difficult for Cascadia to build trust with a client if they see a doctor and don’t know if they’re going to see them again,” Child continued.

“I’m less concerned about myself but more for the less capable clients,” said Ryan Hamit, also a Cascadia client and Client Counsel President of the Garlington Center, one of Cascadia’s centers. “One person was yelling about things, another person was yelling and screaming, and shouting, ‘my house, my house, my house’,” he said, bursting into tears. “They don’t want to transition out of where they are now. And then I walked into a meeting and they made an announcement about a new CEO on May 1st, and it’s been quite shocking…” he trailed off.

“If I went to a new provider I’d feel like I was in a strange land, because there’s people I’ve known at Cascadia for many years,” said Duane Hadtaja, one of three Cascadia clients at the meeting, who writes a newsletter for the nonprofit.

There’ll be a public meeting to discuss Cascadia’s future on May 29th at 6pm, in the cafeteria at Benson High school. Earlier this month, the state and county bailed Cascadia out by accelerating $1.5m in payments due to the group for work already performed. Cascadia had taken a $2m line of credit from its bank without informing the county, and thanks to the lack of proper oversight and accountability there, it was able to conceal the problems until the bank froze Cascadia’s accounts at the end of April, and it had to ask for help. Cascadia’s CEO, Leslie Ford, resigned, and has since been replaced by Derald Walker, who was also at the meeting with Wheeler yesterday.

Wheeler, who was conciliatory yesterday, said “this is no longer a dollar and cents issue, it’s a moral imperative…” to come up with a solution to Cascadia’s problems. Until a solution is offered, however, this situation puts a great deal of pressure on Wheeler to prove his mettle as County Chair in a crisis.

“We need to make sure we’re not just setting the system up for failure again,” said John Holmes, director of the Portland chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“This is what happened in 2002-3, when the county set out to redesign the mental health system,” said Roy Silberstein, director of the Mental Health Association of Portland. “Although the difference is that they’re making an attempt this time to include consumers in the planning process. It’s encouraging because there’s a chance that consumers won’t be trampled.”