From Highway 99, the Oregon State Hospital’s Junction City campus looks like a grounded Boeing C-17. Located on the border of the city limits, the gray building stands alone at the end of a newly constructed road in the center of a field.
This local campus of the Oregon State Hospital opened in March 2015. It employs 357 people and has served 247 individuals, a population that cannot be treated by mental health services in the community.
Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget slashes the hospital’s funding, calling for its closure by July 2018. But the hospital treats people with severe mental illness — a population that often ends up in jail instead of receiving treatment. State Sen. James Manning wants the hospital to stay open because, he says, too many people with mental illness are incarcerated. He spoke to reporters and hospital staff before taking a two-hour tour of the building in March.
In addition to advocating for the hospital, Manning says there’s an opportunity to expand its operations. He says he recently spoke to the director of the Department of Corrections and discovered there’s talk of “building another women’s prison at $100 million.”
“I am opposed to the building of a women’s prison. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” Manning says. “I think we need to put less people in prison, and we need to provide more mental health, more substance abuse help, and then we need to put more focus on bringing families back together.”
The Junction City campus treats people who are civilly or voluntarily committed — i.e. persons suffering from mental illness who can no longer care for themselves — and people who have committed a crime related to their mental illness and are found guilty except for insanity.
Security at the hospital is strict. To enter, a person must be buzzed in through two sets of double doors; the campus also has a secure drop off location.
The hospital’s dispatch team, which monitors the facility through multiple cameras, is staffed with four people, two of whom are in the monitoring station at all times. If there’s a disturbance, the dispatch team broadcasts information throughout the building’s intercom system.
Despite the necessary safety measures, the hospital halls are flooded with light coming in through dozens of unbarred windows, and, on sunny days like this one, people are sitting outside in a grass-covered courtyard.
Billy Hatch, director of treatment services, says the sensory quad, dubbed the “valley quad,” was a vision that came to fruition with the help of clients after they requested to beautify the space. “So our clients have the different tactile experiences — smell, touch, sight — which is really great,” Hatch says. “It also happens to be a place that family members are able to visit with clients.”
The hospital chose to invest in art, so instead of just painting the walls, local artists’ works and quilts adorn the hallways.
Incorporating light into the hospital’s design was intentional, says Interim Deputy Superintendent and registered nurse Kerry Kelly.
“Yeah, I tell you light’s something that does amazing things,” Manning says.
“It does. Light is healing,” Kelly says.
Not only is every detail of the hospital’s design functional; the same goes for the amenities, treatment plans and the dignity behind its vision, which “inspires hope, promotes safety and supports recovery for all,” according to an Oregon Health Authority document.
“Our treatment philosophy is that people do well if they can, and if they aren’t doing well, it’s because they are lacking skills,” Kelly says. “So our job is to teach skills to people.”
The hospital staff uses the term client, as opposed to patient, to refer to a person receiving treatment. “The term client helps staff to understand their role — a client is someone you are dependent on,” Kelly says.
As the tour continues through the hospital, the group passes clients and Kelly shows the post office, banking center, spiritual center and the salon. A seamstress is on hand to mend clothing donated to the hospital, and if alterations aren’t possible, the material is repurposed for art projects. The services are free for clients.
On the second floor, clients have access to workout equipment and two personal trainers. “I wish we could show you the yoga room downstairs, but it’s being used right now,” Kelly says.
Hatch says the fitness room is good for cognitive remediation to change the way clients process information and function. One of the side effects of prescribed antipsychotics is akathisia, which compels people to move, he says. Channeling movement into something constructive, like exercise, can help people integrate successfully into the community.
“It is very important to teach people how to take care of themselves,” Hatch says. Each skill clients learn plays an intergral role after completing treatment, and the hospital staff doesn’t want to see clients go to or return to prison.
During the tour, a discussion of the hospital’s construction begins, which reveals that the hospital was built with a dual purpose: If it does close, it can be used as a prison.
In the end, the hospital’s goal is to successfully reintegrate clients back into the community. To ensure that clients maintain and learn new skills, they work in the kitchen, bank and post office within the hospital. Some clients volunteer in the community at Greenhill Humane Society, where they pet cats, and the hospital is looking to work with FOOD for Lane County.
“Clients want to contribute,” Hatch says.
At the end of a second-floor hallway, a single window offers a panoramic view of the mountains. Kelly points out a phone nearby and says that clients can make long-distance calls. Once, a client called their mother in New York and the mother didn’t know the client was still alive, Kelly adds.
All clients help shape their individual treatment care plans by working with their team of medical and professional staff. Kelly says the client’s goals are displayed on a board during meetings for transparency.
“Some of our clients might be a little suspicious or paranoid,” Kelly says. “So if they ask, ‘What are you writing about me?’ it’s right there so they can see that there are no secrets.”
A few weeks after the tour, Manning tells EW that Gov. Brown’s budget has yet to be reviewed, but adds that he thinks there’s a good chance the hospital will stay open. “I don’t think that there is a huge appetite to close that facility,” he says.
After touring the Lane County Jail, Manning reiterates the critical need for appropriate treatment of people suffering from mental illness and addiction.
Manning says he had a conversation with a young man with schizophrenia at the jail. “I found out that he was in there because someone said that they were afraid of him, and he was being charged with menacing. He hadn’t done anything, and menacing, as I understand it, is a misdemeanor,” he says.
“But there is no place else for him to go,” Manning continues, “so we are now using law enforcement and corrections to handle people with developmental issues as well as emotional issues, and that’s the wrong way to go. We have to do better than this; we have to reverse this.”