A years-long push to replace the crumbling Oregon State Hospital with a world-class psychiatric facility is nearing the finish line.
The third and final mass move of patients into the newly completed $280 million, 620-bed hospital complex is scheduled for March 13-15.
The new facility replaces a notoriously run-down and antiquated array of hospital buildings on the OSH campus, all deemed obsolete and unsafe by state-hired consultants in 2005.
“It wasn’t kind of an embarrassment, it was a total embarrassment. Not only was it an embarrassment, it was a disgrace,” Peter Courtney, president of the Oregon Senate, said Thursday about the old institution.
Courtney, one of the legislative leaders of the hospital replacement project, said Oregonians should take pride in the new facility.
He cautioned, however, that hospital reforms can’t stop with the development of a “world class” facility.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to say until years have passed that not only did we do it right brick-and-mortar wise but we did it right in terms of the amount of staffing as well as the quality of the treatment people get,” Courtney said.
About 180 patients are preparing to relocate to the new hospital around mid-March, bringing it to full occupancy.
Thomas Berry, a 29-year-old patient, will be glad to exit Ward 50C, located in a dreary 1950s-era building that will soon be closed.
“Everything is falling apart here. Over there, everything is new,” Berry said by telephone from Ward 50C.
Patient Renee Putnam, 31, now resides in a section of the new hospital called Trails.
Her current living conditions are far superior to the “nasty” old hospital, Putnam said.
“I think it’s much better than the old hospital, as far as aesthetics,” she said.
But Putnam said she is weary of her repetitive treatment program, and she hopes to leave the hospital soon.
“I’ve taken every class there is multiple times, and I’m just burned out,” she said.
Psychologist Daniel Smith, who has worked at the hospital for eight years, said patient care is steadily improving as administrators, therapists and rank-and-file staff members embrace a recovery model that tailors treatment to each patient’s needs.
“It has improved all around,” he said. “Part of that is definitely the new facilities, but we are certainly continuing to improve our patient care.”
Completion of the 870,000-square-foot hospital in Salem caps the first leg of a two-hospital construction package approved by state legislators.
Plans call for the second hospital to be built on state prison land in Junction City.
Combined costs for the two new hospitals are budgeted at $458 million.
The state hospital has operated in Salem since 1883, when it opened as the Oregon State Insane Asylum. At that time, it was on the outskirts of town. The facility was designed by Wilbur Boothby. He also built the Asahel Bush House and other Salem landmarks.
At its peak, the hospital’s population swelled to more than 3,000 people in 1950s. The hospital now houses fewer than 600 patients.
Until construction of the new facility, no new buildings had been erected on the hospital campus since the mid-20th century.
Dozens of hospital structures were razed to clear the way for the new facility, located south of Center Street NE on the tree-lined campus.
Most notably, work crews demolished portions of the hospital’s J Building, used in the filming of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in the 1970s.
In recent decades, the building’s peeling facade and rotting interior became stark symbols of systematic neglect of Oregon’s main mental hospital.
Heeding the wishes of J Building preservationists, state planners agreed to spare the oldest and most historically significant sections, plus its distinctive tower.
Remodeled portions of the J Building were incorporated into the new hospital complex.
In another nod to history buffs, a long-mothballed fountain, dubbed “Baby Hercules,” was hauled out of storage, spruced up and recently returned to its prominent position near the hospital’s entrance.
The first section of the new hospital, called “Harbors,” opened in January 2011.
The second phase of the project, “Trails,” opened in August.
The final phase of the project calls for 180 patients to move into two treatment programs: “Bridges,” a transition program for patients preparing to leave the hospital, and “Springs,” which treats civilly committed patients receiving care for dementia, brain injury or mental illness.
As the new hospital kicks into high gear on about 100 acres of hospital property south of Center Street, plans call for the state Department of Administrative Services to take over “the management and disposition” of unused hospital buildings and property on the north side of the street.
The north-campus property consists of 47 acres. Six major buildings are situated on the parcel. The entire area is part of the Oregon State Hospital national historic district.
It remains to be determined whether the state will hold onto the property or sell it for redevelopment.
DAS officials have started to meet with Salem neighborhood associations to discuss the planning process for the future of the north campus property.
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