Governor backs state hospital at Junction City

From the Eugene Register-Guard, September 27, 2011

Kitzhaber says the Junction City project has a key role in the move to community-based mental health care

Junction City, Oregon

Junction City, Oregon

Gov. John Kitzhaber stressed his long-term commitment to community-based mental health care at a Wednesday town hall meeting in Junction City, and he said building a state psychiatric facility here fits in with that vision.

“I would not be in support of building this institution if it wasn’t part of a larger mosaic of how we provide care to those with mental illness in this state,” the governor told a packed house at First Baptist Church.

Kitzhaber said a Junction City facility makes sense because the state will need more secure psychiatric beds when its two smaller hospitals in Portland and Pendleton close in coming years.

“Those facilities are falling apart, and they’re inadequate,” he said. “It’s more cost-effective to build a new facility” than to renovate those hospitals.

Kitzhaber said he wants Ore­gon to transition to a mental health care system that’s focused on community-based, preventive care for most patients — a model that would be cheaper for taxpayers and less restrictive for patients. At that point, the Junction City facility could transition into a prison that specializes in treating mentally ill inmates, the governor said.

“The whole (health care) system is currently set up to reward acute care,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is fundamentally change that system.”

Kitzhaber, local legislators Rep. Val Hoyle and Sen. Chris Edwards, Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich and hospital project administrator Linda Hammond took questions from a crowd, whose concerns ranged from the number of nursing jobs the hospital eventually might bring to whether the state can afford the new hospital, as well as public safety questions raised by several prospective neighbors of the facility.

Some spoke in support of the project, including Katharine Schneider, who works in the psychiatric unit of the Sacred Heart Medical Center, University District.

“To our minds, it is unfathomable that we wouldn’t create those beds,” she said. “We had a patient wait for a (secure psychiatric) bed for 90 days. … Until we have more community options, this is just a critical project.”

Several construction industry representatives said the project would bring “desperately needed jobs,” and asked for safeguards to ensure that the jobs stay in Oregon.

Others were critical of the proposed hospital.

“The focus shouldn’t be on jobs; it should be on the appropriate treatment of the mentally ill,” said Gary Crum, a Junction City retiree. “I would feel more comfortable about this project if there was any patient advocacy group that was supporting this.”

Jim Hargreaves, a former Lane County Circuit Court judge who spent a year studying the Oregon State Hospital, asked the governor how he would go about finding sites for 16-bed community mental health care facilities throughout Oregon.

“It’s great to talk about community-­based care, but nobody wants it in their backyard,” he said.

Kitzhaber acknowledged the challenge that siting would pose. He said the state might have to create a board that would have the power to choose sites over the protest of communities.

“It’s one of those things where you can’t have it both ways,” he said. “I don’t see a way around that.”

The Legislature will have to approve an additional $28.5 million in construction bonds in February to keep the Junction City hospital project moving forward and on schedule to open in 2015.

Kitzhaber spent the earlier part of his day in Eugene, where he spoke at a convention for the Oregon AFL-CIO federation of labor unions, and toured Bulk Handling Systems, a local manufacturing business that builds machines that extract recycl­able materials from garbage; it has increased its work force significantly over the past 18 months.