State hospital patients’ upgraded housing

Business manager Jodie Jones (left) on Thursday gives nurse Judy Hanson a tour of one of the remodeled cottages on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital.

Business manager Jodie Jones (left) on Thursday gives nurse Judy Hanson a tour of one of the remodeled cottages on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital.

From the Salem Statesman Journal, February 13 2009

Six remodeled cottages will house people nearing release

Six newly remodeled cottages on the grounds of the Oregon State Hospital in central Salem are ready to open as transitional homes for 36 patients on track to leave the psychiatric facility.

Hospital officials led patients, staff members, legislators, neighbors and other visitors through one refurbished cottage Thursday during a daylong series of tours.

The century-old home, freshly painted and furnished with oak tables, desks and other items made by inmates, is set to become a transitional home for eight male patients before the end of the month.

Hospital patient Joe Powers said he was eager to move in. He contrasted the spacious two-story 2,100-square-foot home to his current treatment ward in the hospital’s run-down J Building.

“I’m impressed. I think it’s going to be a good step up,” he said. “It has more of a residential feel to it. We don’t see razor wire outside our windows.”

As officials tell it, all six cottages will be occupied by model mental patients who pose minimal risk to the safety of fellow residents, themselves, staff members, neighbors and the rest of the community.

All reportedly have progressed well in treatment programs and are close to being discharged.

“A lot of these folks have been waiting a long time,” said Patricia Feeny, state hospital communications manager. “This is what they’ve been working for; this is their time. They deserve to be in this remarkable setting.”

The six remodeled cottages are among more than two dozen cottages scattered across the south and southwest section of the hospital’s sprawling 144-acre campus. In a bygone era, hospital administrators and other high-ranking employees lived in some of the stately homes.

Patients selected to move into the six cottages will include civilly committed patients transferred from the state hospital campus in Portland, as well as criminally committed patients now housed on treatment wards in the hospital’s crowded forensic program in Salem.

Staff members will be on duty around the clock in the cottages, officials said. The units are equipped with alarm systems to alert employees to unauthorized patient departures.

A previous critic of the hospital’s push to convert cottages into transitional homes said Thursday that his concerns had been eased by new talks with a top hospital administrator.

“There seems to be a willingness to commit to some of our requests,” said Andries Fourie, a sculptor who teaches art at Willamette University. “I’m much more optimistic because in the past, they had not wanted to commit to anything.”

Among other things, Fourie, who lives across the street from the cottages, has called for hospital officials to conduct annual independent security audits of the transitional program, to provide assurances that start-up staffing levels for the cottages will be maintained and to promise neighbors that additional cottages won’t be converted into transitional homes.

After a Thursday meeting with Maynard Hammer, deputy hospital superintendent, Fourie said he was confident that officials will heed at least some of his requests.

Fourie said he asked for, but received no assurance, that the hospital would refrain from placing patients with histories of violent crimes, including sex offenses, in the transitional cottages.

“They said they really can’t commit to that, and that we’ll have to live with it,” he said.

This month’s opening of the 36-bed transitional program comes as the state is moving forward with plans to build a new $280 million psychiatric hospital.

The hospital has been deemed obsolete and unsafe by state-hired consultants and federal investigators.

Cost for remodeling work on the six cottages was not available Thursday, officials said. They said it was included in the $458 million budgeted for construction of two new psychiatric facilities. In addition to a new 620-bed hospital in Salem, plans call for building a 360-bed hospital in Junction City.