Roy Orr Feels Great About First Year at Oregon State Hospital

Roy Orr, Superintedent of Oregon State Hospital

Roy Orr, Superintedent of Oregon State Hospital

From the Salem Statesman Journal, March 30 2009

Orr feels great about first year at hospital – Goals for state’s major psychiatric facility on track

A year after he took the reins of the embattled Oregon State Hospital, Superintendent Roy Orr touts sweeping changes at the 126-year-old psychiatric facility.

“I feel great about our first year,” Orr said. “If somebody would have told me on my first day that this is where we’d be a year later, I would have said, ‘I’ll take that.’

“This is a large organization. It’s a very expensive organization to run, and we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. But I’d be hard pressed to try and design a better first year to build on.”

Orr spotlighted these achievements and planned reforms:

    Recruitment of new employees has exceeded expectations, with the addition of nearly 300 new staffers in the past year.

    Staff use of seclusion and restraints to control combative patients has decreased nearly 80 percent.

    A streamlined process for hiring registered nurses has reduced from 80 days to 7 days the average time period for hiring new nurses. Accordingly, the hospital’s nursing vacancy rate has dropped from 22 percent to less than 10 percent.

    Patient morale has been boosted by the opening of six cottages on the hospital grounds as transitional homes for patients nearing their discharge dates.

    Planned addition of a $26 million computerized records system will replace the hospital’s antiquated paper records system.

    Creation of an innovative “peer bridger” program employs three former patients to work with current patients as they prepare to leave the hospital and transition back into Oregon communities.

    The south wing of the dilapidated J Building soon will be demolished, marking progress toward construction of a new $280 million replacement hospital in central Salem.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, gave Orr high marks for his first-year performance.

“I think he came into a very difficult, if not impossible, situation,” Courtney said. “I think he has worked very hard to make a tremendous number of changes, including adding staff we should have had a long time ago.”

A concerted state push to transform psychiatric care at the oldest psychiatric hospital on the West Coast was spurred more than a year ago by a scathing federal investigation report.

In a 48-page report issued in January 2008, , the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division rapped the hospital for unsafe conditions and widespread flaws in patient care.

Orr became hospital chief less than two months after the report shocked state leaders.

Despite improvements in patient care and conditions, Orr acknowledged that the hospital remains severely understaffed and still faces the potential threat of a federal lawsuit that could place it under court control.

Hospital administrators are seeking to hire nearly 1,000 more employees during the 2009-11 budget period, which starts July 1, and in 2011-13. Total cost for the proposed staffing increases has been pegged about $125 million. The Legislature will decide how much money to allocate for extra hospital staffing.

Besides a huge infusion of workers, Orr said continued progress at the hospital requires a change in the institutional culture, shifting from a “make do” attitude to a “can do” attitude.

Here are Orr’s answers to further questions about his first year as superintendent.

Question: Where does the hospital stand now with the U.S. Department of Justice?

Answer: Oregon DOJ and U.S. DOJ continue to talk about settlement issues. Here at the state hospital we’re not intimately involved in those conversations. I feel that in a number of important respects we’re a very different organization today than what the U.S. DOJ found. I remain really hopeful that like many other state hospitals we’ll be able to come to an agreement.

Q: Demolition of the south wing of the old J Building is going to occur in early April. Do you see that as a milestone?

A: It is a milestone. It’s not just getting old buildings out of the way for the new, I think it’s symbolically significant. To me, it respectfully asks our past to get out of the way for our future, and at the same time it tears down some of the things that we’d like to move away from: the stigmas, the associations and the problems of the past.

Q: Initially, some neighbors weren’t happy about the plan to turn six cottages into transitional homes. As that program gets under way, why do you see it as a big step forward?

A: Imagine the difference between being a patient in an overcrowded ward day after day, for months, if not years, and then to earn the privilege to be in one of these beautifully renovated, historically renovated, homes. To wake up each day and enjoy an almost 360 degree view around the park that the cottages are set in …

We’ve got some great staff members who have transferred into those positions down there who are every bit as excited as the patients.

Q: What benefits will come with the planned shift to a computerized records system?

A: We’ve really been hamstrung historically because of our lack of automation. By capturing our data electronically we will have the ability to turn it into really useful clinical and management information.

This is really going to be the backbone of what will ultimately be a network for knitting together the community mental health providers with the state hospital. That will be a huge advantage for us all.

Additional Facts – Live chat Tuesday

Roy Orr, superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital, will talk with the Statesman Journal Editorial Board at 11 a.m. Tuesday. Go to to watch the discussion live.