State hospital says it needs 1,000 new workers

From the Oregonian, September 18 2008

Jaws dropped in the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee today when budget-writers heard that the Oregon State Hospital needs 1,000 additional staff for the new mental hospital in Salem.

The estimated price: $124 million.

The Legislature had agreed to spend $458.1 million to replace the dilapidated 125-year-old state mental hospital in Salem and build a second hospital in Junction City. But news that the 620-bed Salem hospital requires a 67 percent increase in staff — to about 2,500 positions — came as a surprise.

The state will use bonds to finance construction of the two hospitals. The money for additional nurses, therapists and support staff would have to come from the state’s general tax fund. That means there would be less available to spend on schools, health care, prisons, parks and other needs.

EXTRA – Budget report for House Bill 5031, refered to in the article above. This is the only location of this document online.
EXTRA – DHS to seek $124 million for hospital, Salem Statesman Journal, September 18 2008
EXTRA – 1,000 new staffers for state hospital? Whew!, editorial from the Oregonian, September 20, 2008

OUR COMMENT – The Mental Health Association of Portland has opposed the new building construction of the Oregon State Hospital for over two years, and our opposition has fallen on deaf ears keenly attuned to civil service unions and institutional advocates. Our prediction – before the dust settles the “rehabilitation” of this boondoggle will cost Oregonians a billion dollars.

The proposal to attach 1000 new civil service staff to the state hospital seems particularly unimaginative. For the very high staff cost of $124 million proposed, each of Oregon’s 36 counties could have a team of clinicians and social workers trained to intervene with persons with acute mental illness, reducing hospitalization, reducing stress to the criminal justice system and families, reducing the chance of harm to the patient.

Given a year to get up and running, this well proven model, called Assertive Community Treatment, can significantly reduce long-term inpatient hospitalization thereby saving both lives and money. It’s discouraging Oregon’s mental health bureaucrats have frittered away political attention and bowed to union advocates instead of addressing patient needs. We hope with a new administration at the state mental health division, more thoughtful consideration of the systemic problem will start.