Oregon proposes mental health treatment home notification to local councils, not neighbors

From the Bend Bulleton, December 12, 2011

When a mental health treatment home is moving into a residential area, a local safety council will get notice but not the neighbors, according to a proposal by state officials.

Oregon dropped a proposal to notify residents such as those who complained last year that they learned at the last minute that two small-group treatment hopes were opening on Bend’s east side, the Bulletin reported.

The two homes serve patients with serious mental illnesses who come from the state hospital, are at risk of hospitalization or cannot live on their own without supporting services. Each home has five beds.

A neighbor of one of the Bend homes criticized the notice requirement.

“A neighborhood representative would be able to shine light on the potential issues/impact to a given neighborhood that might not be seen by others not familiar with the neighborhood itself,” Mark Leary wrote in an email to the paper.

Bob Joondeph, executive director of the nonprofit Disability Rights Oregon, said either notification idea would be discriminatory — “the result of unwarranted fears of people with mental illness.”

“If you or I or any of your readers aren’t required to notify any of your neighbors that you’re moving in, a person shouldn’t have to do that just because they have a mental illness that is so severe that they have to live in a small group setting,” he told the paper.

The safety councils consist of law enforcement officials and residents. A 2009 law requires the state to notify those councils about the proposed development of residential facilities for patients found guilty except for insanity at trial.

The state decided to notify such councils, instead of neighbors, to create a single process for all mental health treatment homes, said Karynn Fish, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Health Authority.

“I think there also was concern about whether (notification of neighbors) was legal under federal anti-discrimination laws,” Fish said.

The state’s latest proposal would require the notice from the state and companies that plan to open treatment homes. It would give the safety councils 60 days to respond with suggested changes.