From the The East Oregonian, January 3 2008
The 16 bedrooms at the Pendleton House are spare with only a twin bed, small closet, built-in desk and dresser.
The space, however, will provide privacy the likes of which the rooms’ future occupants never experienced at the Oregon State Hospital where they now live.
“These people have had four and five people to a bedroom for years,” said Jenny Peters, Pendleton House director.
The privacy is so rare that one future resident told Peters he wondered if he could sleep with his door open for the first few weeks, so he could adjust gradually.
Welcome baskets sit atop the 16 desks, covered in red cellophane. The residents will start arriving at the mental health facility, on the northeast corner of the Eastern Oregon Training Center campus, early this month.
All 16 individuals entered state custody after being judged guilty except for reason of insanity. Their crimes range from horrific to less-serious offenses that endangered only themselves. All, however, have one thing in common – the crime was committed while in the grip of mental illness.
The facility includes two eight-bedroom cottages enclosed by an eight-foot fence with a two-foot extension that juts out at an angle. The fence features no-climb mesh and an alarm triggered by motion.
The residents will maintain a robust treatment and activity schedule, meeting with an array of therapists and a psychiatrist and attending on-site Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings depending on their individual treatment plans.
Patients at the Oregon State Hospital must receive permission to live at Pendleton House from the state’s ultra-strict Psychiatric Security Review Board and must have a history of stability that indicates they are nearly ready to go back into society.
Still, those who make it to Pendleton House and similar treatment facilities must prove themselves.
“With our passport system, folks go through the process of earning privileges,” said Darcy Strahan, state-delivered residential services manager. “It’s a series of milestones they have to move through to gain more independence.
Final milestones involve going out into the community, first with a staff member and, later, alone.
“Every milestone must be approved by the PSRB,” Strahan said.
Pendleton House pulsed with activity Monday.
The sound of alarms enveloped the facility as Pendleton Fire Marshal Tyler Nokes ran tests. Contractor John Eckhardt of Knerr Construction did last-minute tweaking. Peters and Strahan prepared for a licensing inspection.
In a spacious kitchen, cook Gloria Gilman stirred an aromatic batch of chili she would soon serve to three prospective residents arriving shortly for a site visit.
Modifying the two houses into a forensic facility held many challenges, Strahan, Peters and Eckhardt agreed as they took a moment to chat in the hallway. The buildings have been remodeled multiple times for everything from doctors’ housing to quarters for severely retarded residents.
“In every construction remodeling project, you always run into unforeseen conditions,” Eckhardt said. “We had to do a lot of tweaking to make it come together.”
Two examples included a manhole and shut-off valve that lay where the security fence was supposed to go and a backhoe operator who took out a retaining wall while removing bushes.
“John’s favorite phrase is, ‘We’re working through it,'” said Strahan, laughing.
A transportation disaster and weather also wreaked some havoc.
A train carrying mattresses for the facility derailed a couple of weeks ago, causing a delay. This week, the mattresses made it to Rieth before the truck carrying them broke down. Pendleton House sent its own truck to retrieve them.
Snowstorms delayed trucks carrying the facility’s security fencing.
The result of the frenetic effort is a relatively homey abode where a miniature community will soon start to take form.