Blue Mountain Recovery Center Still On The Ropes

From the East Oregonian, June 15, 2012

The fuzzy outlines of an operation to save the Blue Mountain Recovery Center are coming into focus.

The Pendleton psychiatric facility dodged extinction numerous times in the past 20 years, but is scheduled for closure again in 2015. A group of about 25 individuals, including Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg, gathered Friday to devise another 11th hour save or a way to repurpose the center.

State Sen. David Nelson, R-Pendleton, guided the free-flowing discussion between an eclectic group of health care, business, government and law enforcement professionals in the St. Anthony Hospital Blues Room. About half-way through the 1 1/2-hour-long meeting, Kevin Campbell, CEO of the non-profit Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc. — known as GOBHI — turned some heads by suggesting that the center could go private. Campbell said letting the facility fade away can’t be an option.

The two-story hospital at 2600 Westgate, formerly the Eastern Oregon Psychiatric Center, sits on 7.43 acres next to the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution and treats up to 60 patients at a time. It employs 143.

“The footprint of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center is bigger than just Pendleton,” he said.

Relying on the center are 10 smaller private mental health facilities in other Eastern Oregon communities, such as McNary Place in Umatilla, a Lifeways operation, and Columbia Care in Boardman. He said all of the smaller mental health facilities depend on Blue Mountain and could dry on the vine for lack of referrals. Together, they provide more than 100 beds.

“So are you saying you want to run Blue Mountain?” Goldberg asked Campbell. “The state could sell the hospital to you and you’d operate and run it?”

“Talk to us,” said Campbell.

Pendleton Mayor Phillip Houk seemed to like the idea. He had prodded Goldberg earlier in the meeting, calling BMRC a “blue ribbon facility” that has helped a lot of people. He asked Goldberg if the community was spinning its wheels trying to keep the center open.

“It is likely to close,” Goldberg said. “Having said that, there have been times in the past when it was likely to close and it did not.”

Goldberg confirmed that construction has begun on a new 174-bed state psychiatric hospital in Junction City that would replace the 60 beds at the Pendleton hospital and 90 beds rented from Portland hospitals.

The Pendleton hospital, built in the early 1940s, needs an overhaul. Aging plumbing and electrical systems, lead pipes, lead-based paint, asbestos and remodeling would cost $11 million to mitigate. Recruiting psychiatrists to rural Eastern Oregon is difficult.

The discussion ranged from telemedical technology that could abate the need for psychiatrists moving to Pendleton to the burden mental illness puts on law enforcement. But, Campbell’s idea sparked the most hope.

“I believe we need to take proactive steps rather than keep trying to stop the clock,” he said.

“We are ready to sharpen our pencils,” Goldberg promised.

The two and their organizations will talk over the summer, they said. The group planned to reconvene in the fall.

Campbell also serves as CEO of the Eastern Oregon Coordinated Care Organization, a player in the state’s effort to revamp its system of delivering health care to Oregon Health Plan enrollees.