ColumbiaCare hosted a housewarming party Monday afternoon, inviting all its neighbors to check out its new digs on Cove Road in Brookings Monday.
The five-bedroom house blends in with its neighbors on the block, and starting next month will be home to five residents — three men and two women — from the Oregon State Hospital who will work to improve their social skills, become independent and integrate themselves into the community.
The residents are evaluated by the state Psychiatric Security Review Board and could have, except for their mental illness, been found guilty of a crime.
The facility, called Bell Cove, is a less-restrictive environment that will be overseen by an administrator around the clock and a nurse five days each week to help clients there adapt to a life outside an institution.
“There is the notion out there that people with mental illness are in some way dangerous, that they are to be feared,” said ColumbiaCare spokeswoman Jennifer Sewitsky. “Not only are they active in their recovery, there is a lot of supervision and care. It is a very responsible process.”
“This is built as a medical facility,” said Mary Claire Buckley of the state Psychiatric Security Review Board. “They have the right to live in a community. We want to make sure their transition is a positive and safe one.”
Some might not make the full transition, depending on their mental and physical health needs, but live out their lives in a facility that provides them the tools to reach their maximum potential.
The clients here have varying degrees of mental health and physical limitations; they range in age from 48 into their 70s.
Most of the construction costs were provided by the state, with ColumbiaCare Services of Medford picking up the rest. Ongoing costs are provided, in part, by the clients’ income, usually Social Security or disability funds.
ColumbiaCare offers five types of residential treatment facilities, ranging from supportive and transitional housing — arguably the most minimal of security — to secure residential treatment facilities, which are locked to protect the community.
“We look at where there is property, where there is support in the community,” Sewitsky said of selecting Brookings. “This is where we landed and thought we could do a good job. We’re really excited. We get to provide services to five individuals working at a high level of recovery, moving on and getting better.”
All clients are expected to treat each other and those in the community with kindness and respect, and are rated at different levels, depending on their capabilities and achievements, to earn more freedom.
Those with diminished capabilities might learn about street safety and to read a neighborhood map, while others might have the freedom to leave the house for designated periods of time on their own.
Things such as personal expectations, participation, compliance with house rules and community involvement are taken into consideration before such license is granted.
The facility itself was designed with the idea of being everything a home has to offer — and if comments made by neighbors were any indication, there was a little bit of jealousy held at bay. Some in attendance commented that they’d like to have a house as nice as Bell Cove.
“It’ll be quite a change,” said administrator and nurse Judy Smith. “We hope it’s a change for the better.”
“We want to have homes for our clients that we’d like to live in,” Buckley said. “I’m sure they’ll be very excited to be here.”
“You have to look at it from their perspective,” Smith said. “If I or a family member required such services, this is what I’d like to see instilled in it.”
The home opens into a large kitchen and gathering area, features a quieter room for reading or games, laundry facilities and five bedrooms with half-baths. A common shower area can accommodate wheelchairs.
The motif, of course, is nautical, with statuettes of terns and gulls on bookcases and brass gas lanterns, Japanese floats and photos of the beach adorning the interior. Outside, a brass bell hangs in the eaves. The walls are a soothing ocean blue — the paint so fresh, it could be smelled — the wood floors glow in the sunlight and the wainscoted kitchen cabinets feature a faux scuffing that adds to the ambience.
The spacious backyard features raised gardens where residents can grow vegetables for use in their meals, in which they are involved in planning and making.
A separate room offers privacy for meetings with family and counselors, and “the bridge” offers the 17 staff members a full view of the common areas and serves as an office.
Such facilities, Buckley said, have a 2 percent recidivism rate. The state hospital and the county mental health officials must approve each resident to assure it’s a good fit with the community and the clients’ needs.
“It’s their home,” Smith said. “And we’re a family.”