Bend Mental Health Homes Spark Concern

From, August 16, 2010

Concern by some northeast Bend residents about a pair of five-bed mental health treatment homes set to open soon in their neighborhood prompted a meeting with several officials Monday — a move some called a good first step but, in many neighbors’ eyes, a long-overdue one.

The first that many area residents knew of the planned treatment homes at 1646 NE Edgecliff Circle and 1058 NE 12th Street was a letter received in the mail a week ago, inviting them to an Aug. 26 “community gathering” to be held by the homes’ California-based operator, Telecare Corp.

Many expressed concern about the news that mental health patients, some being released from the Oregon State Hospital, would be living in an area of schools (Pilot Butte Middle School is less than 1,000 feet away), children and hard-hit property values to protect.

Deschutes County officials tried to assure them that the concerns are unwarranted, and that the patients would be monitored 24 hours a day and screened to be sure they aren’t dangerous.

Edgecliff Circle resident Mark Leary said most residents know of the strong need for such facilities, but felt they had been left out of the loop in worrisome fashion.

“I think the fact that no one has been consulted in this process — of course there are questions,” he said. “But there would be questions if this was a McDonald’s or a bar, or any business being opened up — the increase in traffic, the number of strangers that will be coming into a single-family residential neighborhood.”

The homes are a place to help transition the patients back into normal lives, and officials say having the facility in a residential neighborhood helps in that process. They also note that people with mental illnesses live in neighborhoods now — on their own, or with family or friends — usually unsupervised.

State law does not require operators of mental health facilities with five or fewer beds to notify neighbors about their plans.

Among those attending Monday’s meeting were state Rep. Judy Stiegler, D-Bend, county Health Services Director Scott Johnson, county Commissioner Alan Unger and Telecare Regional Director Kevin McChesney, Leary said.

In statement read to Monday’s gathering, the neighbors said they “understand there is a critical need in this county for expanded mental health care services.” They also said they don’t debate “that there are thousands of individuals in our county right now in desperate need, or that previous solutions, like housing within our criminal justice system (e.g. jails) are totally inappropriate.”

“We are here to discuss process and criteria for site selection,” they said, and “why the very community within which this facility is supposed to be helping individuals reintegrate and transition into — was not inclued in the discussion, planning or proper siting.”

The neighbors also quoted state Rep. Gene Whisnant, R-Sunriver, as saying he’d support legislation, if need be, to have neighbors contacted before a contract is signed, so they can have their concerns addressed.

They asked those involved in the siting to outline and make public “objective siting criteria (and) assessment of the impacts” to surrounding neighborhoods.

The neighbors asked that a siting committee be formed of appropriate parties to be sure suitable sites are chosen that have “the minimal possible impact with the best chance of success.”

Later, Leary told NewsChannel 21 that while the neighbors’ requests were not agreed to, “It was a good first conversation, but one of many and one that is long overdue.”

He said they were given commitments that officials would share their concerns, to “escalate the issue to people in their respective organizations, and get back to us next week.”

Unger agreed on the need for more communication: “What I hope we do is continue to have open dialogue, so that the neighbors are able to have their questions answered or concerns addressed, and we can move forward with a positive experience.”

Those seeking more information about the homes are invited to attend the open houses, at either location, on Thursday, Aug. 26, from 4:30-6 p.m., and to contact Telecare’s regional director at 503-319-6142.