Gov. John Kitzhaber today will attend a town hall meeting in Junction City that will delve into the current status of the proposed psychiatric state hospital here, which could bring hundreds of government jobs to Lane County if it is ever built.
Joining Kitzhaber will be state Sen. Chris Edwards and state Rep. Val Hoyle, Eugene Democrats whose districts include Junction City; Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich; and high-ranking state officials from the Oregon Health Authority and Department of Corrections. Tim Raphael, a Kitzhaber spokesman, said the governor “looks forward to meeting with his constituents in that part of the state.”
Hoyle, a vocal supporter of the project in the Oregon Legislature, said she was “very excited” that the governor had accepted an invitation to attend the meeting.
“People have been able to get little pieces of information about the status of the project, but having the governor — Oregon’s chief executive — discuss how (the Junction City hospital) fits in with his vision of overall health care transformation for the state will be very reassuring to residents,” she said.
The hospital project has been in a state of continual flux since its inception in 2007, when lawmakers approved a $458 million plan to build two new psychiatric facilities — a 620-bed facility in Salem and a 360-bed facility in Junction City — to replace the old Salem state mental hospital.
The new Salem hospital largely is completed, but the Junction City project has been stalled, in part because of the state’s financial crisis.
While the hospital would be a boon for Lane County’s economy, bringing hundreds of well-paying jobs, the project has met plenty of resistance, both on financial and mental health treatment grounds.
Earlier this year, the size of the proposed Junction City facility was cut to 174 beds, based on revised projections of the state’s need for psychiatric beds in the coming decades, and funding to move beyond preliminary construction work was postponed because of stretched state finances.
The 2011 Legislature approved $5 million for indirect construction costs — mostly for planning and infrastructure — to be spent in Junction City by early next year. That allocation keeps the project moving forward and could allow the hospital to open on schedule in 2015, according to project administrators.
Legislators also floated the idea this summer of transitioning the hospital eventually to become a state corrections facility for inmates with mental health and addiction problems. The proposed transition would allow many individuals with mental illness, those who are not dangerous to themselves or others, to be treated in community settings around the state rather than in a big psychiatric hospital.
That’s a model of care for mental illness that the federal government and patient advocacy groups have been pressuring Oregon and other states to move toward.
Hoyle said today’s town hall meeting would allow officials “to explain the current plan (for the hospital) and to address some concerns that Junction City residents might have moving forward.”
Raphael, Kitzhaber’s spokesman, said the governor “wants to be in listening mode” and get local feedback about the project.
Junction City Councilor Randy Nelson said he expects the meeting to be well attended as local interest remains high.
“When you’re talking about 500 to 600 jobs, people will be interested,” he said.
Nelson added that getting Kitzhaber’s “stamp of approval” will help give confidence to the community that the hospital will be built eventually.
“It has been long time since (people in Junction City) first heard about this project, … and they’re confused about where it is headed now,” he said. “It does feel like the plans change on a day-to-day basis.”
Kitzhaber also may hear from some advocates for psychiatric patients who balk at the idea of the state building a new psychiatric hospital, even one that may serve a different purpose eventually.
Bob Oaks, director of MindFreedom International, a Eugene-based organization, said that politicians continue to paint individuals with mental illness as dangerous and refuse to include representatives of that community in discussions about how the care they should receive.
For all the official proclamations about a future using community-based care, if legislators move ahead with a large new psychiatric hospital, that will send its own message, he said.
“We hear a lot of great buzzwords, like ‘community care’ and ‘empowerment,’ but the proof is in the pudding,” he said. “A facility like that is something that belongs in the industrial age and the 1800s.”
Town Hall Meeting on state hospital for Junction City
When: Today, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Where: First Baptist Church, 28957 W. 18th Ave., Junction City