Virtual reality machine helps hospital staff understand schizophrenia, May 14, 2014

With the help of a virtual reality machine, Portland’s Adventist Medical Center is teaching employees what it’s like to [have schizophrenia].

“We believe they need to have a better understanding of mental illness so they can provide better care,” said Dr. John Custer.

The machine mimics the mind of a schizophrenic person, with multiple images and noises bombarding the viewer.

“There’s a lot of stimulation and you don’t know where to focus,” said Adventist employee Scott Conlee. ”Every voice seems to say something valid, but it’s negative.”

The technology was brought into the hospital during Mental Health Awareness Week.

On Sunday, Adventist is sponsoring a walk to benefit the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“It’s no joke and the stigma of mental illness is horrendous. It keeps people from getting help,” said Dr. Custer.

Conlee believes the machine gave him important insight.

“We really have to focus on how we interact and explain things and make sure all our patients know they’re in a comfortable and safe environment,” he said.


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Halfway through contract to clean up campsites, security firm has only been dispatched once – for a false alarm

The Portland Mercury, May 15, 2014

Halfway through a three-month contract to clean up illegal homeless camps on city property, local security firm Pacific Patrol Services hasn’t been sent to a single actual campsite.

As of Monday, PPS had only been dispatched once, on April 29, to what city records show was a false alarm. Cops had received a tip someone was camping in a small park in a traffic circle at NE 102nd and Weidler. It looks like this:


When clean-up staff got to the traffic circle, it only found run-of-the-mill rubbish. “Just empty bottles and food containers,” according to Abby Coppock, a spokeswoman for the city’s Office of Management and Finance, which oversees the PPS contract. “There was no personal property collected.”

It’s not clear what the city paid for the service, which documents indicate involved an hour of work. Portland’s contract with PPS says the contractor will receive $703.24 per day of work, and does not appear to account for smaller units. (We’re still waiting to hear back on cost).

Mayor Charlie Hales‘ office announced the campsite clean-up contract in early April. The mayor’s office has emphasized enforcement of Portland’s camping ban since last year. But clean-up of those sites fell to city bureaus who owned the land, and they often had more-pressing tasks on their plates. And there wasn’t a formal, centralized system by which rousted campers could retrieve their belongings. Hales’ office says the PPS contract could change that.

But the plan drew concern from some homeless advocates, who fear the city’s homeless are already leery of private security guards that patrol properties throughout downtown. So the city held off on dispatching clean-up contractors until, it says, they’d been properly trained.

Under the contract—which expires in June, and can’t exceed $35,000—PPS will respond to campsites on city land once alerted by a bureau. In order to legally dismantle a site, officials need to post warning at least 24 hours in advance. The clean-up must be completed within seven days of that posting, Gibson said. The city’s goal is within 48 hours.

PPS is also required to document thoroughly all items it confiscates and throws away, and to submit pictures of campsites before cleaning them up. If the site’s resident is on hand, workers must give them an hour to take their possessions before work commences. And PPS will maintain a repository—on a site the city provides—where homeless people can arrange to pick up their belongings.

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What the Oregon State Hospital sent home in a cardboard box

By Kathy Walsh, published May 17, 2014 in the Oregonian. She lives in Bend.

Last week, I received an unexpected delivery from the Oregon State Hospital. I am guardian for a family member (let’s call her Beth) who was discharged from OSH’s Portland facility in July 2013. OSH security staff came to our home in Bend to drop off two large cardboard boxes of “her possessions,” sealed and clearly labeled with her name. I am writing not because I am concerned by the tardy delivery, nor even because most of Beth’s missing items are still missing, but because I think a look at these boxes can be instructive for those who haven’t had my experience of daily visits to the hospital and yet are curious about how Oregon’s mental health system works.

Groundsmen stand with lawnmowers in front of the Oregon State Hospital, 1910.

Groundsmen stand with lawnmowers in front of the Oregon State Hospital, 1910.

One box was filled with ragged clothing. Out of the large pile of mismatched shoes and torn jeans, two tee shirts belonged to Beth. The second box contained a bewildering array of objects and papers, the detritus of wrecked lives, with only one brief document for Beth. Along with hygiene and makeup products, keys, cheap jewelry, stuffed toys, a single tennis shoe and so many other lost objects, I was troubled to find a welter of personal photos, correspondence and official documents referring to perhaps five other patients. These included Department of Human Services, hospital and court reports, Department of Motor Vehicles correspondence, patient journals and ID cards. Some documents appear to have been gathered by the hospital, others to have been brought by patients (like a child’s birth records).

This box provides a chilling encounter with the loss of personhood experienced by those who suffer severe mental illness — and the chaotic system we have in Oregon to provide treatment for such individuals. (Forget “private hospitals.” With extended psychosis, this is where you end up.) And except for rare cases like Beth, who lived with and returned to family, most patients have lost their residences, cars, jobs, funding and families by the time they experience such a medical event. Along with the question of how the hospital handles records is the question of where such patients are to leave their stuff so they can begin to rebuild lives and identities when discharged.

OSH is staffed by many dedicated and overworked professionals who do the best they can with slim resources and within a culture of chaos. But individuals get lost in this system. When we read about floods or fires, we ask, “what would you take with you when fleeing disaster to help you hold onto your past and rebuild your life?” For those with serious mental illness, who are at least temporarily at the mercy of their illness and our care systems, the questions are, “how in the world would you keep hold of what you take? How do you retain your identity when your clothes and other belongings have become communal property on the ward? How do you emerge to resume your life?” Can’t we provide a better care environment for these suffering individuals? That would require more funding, more administrative/clerical support and more coordination.

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Fed Judge rejects Portland City Council as a venue for yearly police reform hearings

The Oregonian, May 12, 2014

Reluctant to accept a judge’s request to hold annual hearings in federal court on the status of mandated police reforms, the city of Portland, police union and justice officials suggested an alternative that was quickly shot down as unacceptable.

The proposal: annual hearings before Portland’s City Council instead. Videos and transcripts of the council hearings and any exhibits would be provided to the judge for review. The judge could provide written questions to city officials, which would require the city’s response.

The idea came during an April 28 telephone conference hearing with U.S. District Court Judge Michael H. Simon, according to a transcript of the proceeding The Oregonian obtained through a public records request…Continue reading at

READTranscript of telephone conference April 28, 2014 (PDF, 35KB)

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