Patients move into second Oregon State Hospital wing

From the Salem Statesman Journal, August 17, 2011

Nearly 175 Oregon State Hospital patients moved out of cramped, obsolete quarters on the Salem campus Tuesday, taking up residence in a newly opened part of the $280 million hospital replacement facility, called Trails.

It was a good, first day in Trails for patient Lynn Jones, who said the three-story, 234-bed wing of the new hospital provides OSH residents with vastly improved living conditions.

“I really like it; I was struck by the openness,” Jones said. “I think the environment is calming and therapeutic, more conducive to recovery.”

Tuesday’s mass patient moves into Trails marked another milestone in Oregon’s years-long, ongoing effort to replace antiquated, unsafe psychiatric facilities with a modern 620-bed hospital.

Dozens of run-down hospital structures have been razed, remodeled or put into mothballed status during the project.

The first 104-bed section of the replacement hospital, called Harbors, opened in January.

OSH Superintendent Greg Roberts said the advent of Trails sets the stage for the third and final patient move into the new hospital. Plans call for the entire 870,000-square-foot facility to be fully operational by early next year.

“As you know, today was the big move to Trails — the second in a series of three patient moves into the new facility,” Roberts said Tuesday in a message to the hospital advisory board. “I’m pleased to report the move went very well overall.

“So far, the patients seem very pleased with the new building and happy with their new rooms. As we settle in, I believe we’ll find the new building a great improvement over the old one, with more treatment space and smaller staff-to-patient ratios. The new facility is much more therapeutic and enables us to provide a wider variety of treatment options.”

Jones was among 174 patients on Tuesday who exited the crowded quarters they had occupied in an obsolete 1950s-era structure, called the “50 Building.”

She won’t miss the bleak, five-story structure. Her blunt assessment of its flaws: “Archaic. Crowded. Intrusive.”

Patient belongings were shifted to the new facility on Monday. A series of bus rides transported patients Tuesday morning from the 50 Building, located north of Center Street on the sprawling OSH campus, to Trails, which is south of the east-west city arterial.

Jones said patients on her unit, Ward 50I, became antsy as they waited for their turn to move.

“Let’s get this done,” she said about the overall sentiment.

After eating pizza for lunch in Trails, Jones, 50, talked about her favorable impressions of the facility. She also described how 18 months of treatment at OSH has put her on a path to recovery.

“Wow, when I got here I was ill,” she said. “I was very, very depressed, suicidal, antisocial, not motivated to do anything.”

Jones linked her progress to medication, therapy and support from hospital staffers and fellow patients.

“I haven’t been suicidal for several months,” she said. “I’m very social … I look forward to each day. I’ve come a long way.”

With the shift to Trails, Jones now occupies a private room, providing her with “a greater sense of personal space.”

“For me, that creates a calming effect,” she said.

Robale Garbaba, 24, moved to Trails from hospital Ward 50F, a unit in the 50 Building that often housed more than 30 patients. At times, four or five patients would be jammed into rooms designed for two, he said.

Despite subpar conditions in the 50 Building, Garbaba said some patients came to accept it as their home, and they had a hard time dealing with the move to Trails.

Though impressed with the modern features of Trails, Garbaba said the facility “feels a little more sterile” than the 50 Building. And he predicted that it will take time for patients to adjust.

“Things are changing very fast and in a good way,” he said.

Patient Richard Laing, an outspoken critic of the hospital, said departures from the 50 Building were long overdue.

“It’s a terrible place,” he said. “It’s a 60-year-old building. It sucks. They should have closed it down 20 years ago.”

Laing’s first take on Trails: “The building is excellent. It’s state of the art. But nothing has changed. Same old staff, same old patients.”