Blue Mountain Recovery Center at risk

From the East Oregonian, December 6 2008

Deep inside the Governor’s Proposed Budget for the next biennium is a short sentence that places a Pendleton mental health facility squarely on the chopping block.

Eastern Oregon State Hospital

Eastern Oregon State Hospital

The nine-word sentence, on page C-18 of the voluminous document, reads, “The Blue Mountain Recovery Center will be phased out.”

“Phased out” means the center will start moving clients out starting this summer.

“While the Governor’s budget is not final, if it were legislatively approved, one option would be closure of the 60-bed Blue Mountain Recovery Center,” said Patricia Feeny, communications manager for the Department of Human Services.

Kerry Kelly, BMRC director, said the news didn’t come as a shock.

“It was not a surprise,” Kelly said. “The governor’s been pretty clear about the state of the budget.”

Kelly said she isn’t despairing just yet, however.

“I’m stressing to the staff that we’re at the beginning of a very long process,” she said. “This is not the first time Blue Mountain Recovery Center has been identified for phase-out – it’s happened in budget cycles in the past.”

The psychiatric hospital, formerly the Eastern Oregon Psychiatric Center, dates back almost a century. The BMRC building, a 89,822-square-foot facility, sits on 7.43 acres next-door to the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution and was constructed in the late 1940s.

Feeny described the center as “the primary psychiatric hospital for Eastern Oregon,” though most of BMRC’s clients come from the other side of the state.

“Despite the location,” she said, “more than two-thirds of the patients are from Western Oregon.

Jillian Schoene, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said BMRC will start transitioning before the Legislature makes any final determination.

“It will happen in a six-month period starting in July of 2009,” said Spokeswoman Jillian Schoene.

Clients who are able will move to community settings.

Kelly said community placements would vary depending on the level of severity. There are different levels of community settings in the state ranging from foster homes to locked group homes.

“This transition is based on modern treatment methods that show people do better when they are in less restrictive environments and treated closer to their home community,” Feeny said.

In the coming months, admissions to BMRC would stop.

“At a certain point in the plan, we would stop admissions for individuals who are likely to need more time in the hospital than BMRC would be open,” Feeny said. “They would then be served at OSH (Oregon State Hospital) either at the Salem or Portland campus.”

Feeny said DHS would work to find positions for the 142 BMRC employees.

“Maintaining a skilled local workforce is also important,” she said, “so as we did with the EOTC (Eastern Oregon Training Center), we will be looking at ways to find appropriate placements for BMRC staff.”

Kelly remains hopeful in the face of such plans and is focusing on BMRC’s clients, rather than despair about an uncertain future.

“We’re going to continue doing the work that we do,” she said.