Call for action concerning Oregon State Hospital, Native American residents, and CPE program

We recieved this urgent email today from Melissa L. Bennett, M.Div., Umatilla/Nimiipuu/Sak & Fox, and an Oregon State Hospital Clinical Pastoral Education graduate, 2013

Dear Oregon Tribal leaders, representatives of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education, representatives of the Oregon State Hospital, and other concerned parties:

I am writing to you today from a place of deep concern for the indigenous residents of the Oregon State Hospital (OSH), the hospital’s indigenous staff, and the integrity of its Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) program.

Oregon State Hospital, about 1910

Oregon State Hospital, about 1910

As a 2013 graduate of the OSH Clinical Pastoral Education program and as a descendent of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation I was startled to learn of a new job opening at the Oregon State Hospital. The title of this position is: Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor and Native American Coordinator. When I first read the position description, I assumed it was a poorly written posting of two separate jobs. When I inquired further I learned that OSH has, in fact, merged these two positions into one with NO NATIVE AMERICAN CULTURAL KNOWLEDGE AND/OR COMPETENCY REQUIREMENT in the job description.

Currently, the Oregon State Hospital employs an enrolled Cherokee tribal member, Cynthia Prater, Psy.D. as its Native American Services Coordinator. Dr. Prater has officially filled this role since its inception in February 2011, though she began undertaking her duties in 2010. Dr. Prater works closely with Chehalis/Wintu elder and addictions counselor, Larry Presnall (paired with support from both Native and non-Native staff and allies) to successfully provide traditional Native American spiritual and cultural services to the hospital’s 10% indigenous population. Together they provide culturally relevant one-to-one and group counseling, treatment team advocacy, programming that includes smudge, sweat, and talking circle ceremonies as well as treatment groups that discuss and explore issues of Native American history, culture, trauma, spiritualities, and addictions recovery. Dr. Prater, Elder Presnall, and the former Oregon Health Authority tribal liaison historically worked to keep the Native American Services Program separate from the OSH Spiritual Care Department due to the complicated historical trauma inherent in the relationship between mainstream Christian religions and tribal communities.

The Oregon State Hospital’s decision to combine a position currently held by Dr. Prater with the role of a Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor is ludicrous. OSH has effectively made Dr. Prater ineligible to apply for her own job.

The process to become a CPE Supervisor (as defined by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education) is an arduous one. A person must first possess a Master of Divinity degree (or equivalent) from an accredited institution. The M.Div. degree takes between 3 and 4 years to complete post undergraduate education. A person must then complete one year (four units) of Clinical Pastoral Education before they can apply for a Supervisory CPE education. Once approved, it may take from 3 – 10 years for the Supervisory CPE Candidate to reach Associate Supervisory Status with an additional 2 – 3 years of work and study before becoming a full CPE Supervisor (for more information on the Supervisory CPE process please see: and

The process of achieving the certification of a full CPE Supervisor requires between 9 and 18 years of study beyond a bachelor’s degree. Despite the rigorous certification process established by the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (ACPE) the current OSH job opening for a CPE Supervisor has a minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree from a seminary and one year of clergy or teaching experience (again, see the above link for the official job description).

As a result of the strenuous path toward becoming a fully certified Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor, the number of both Associate and Full CPE Supervisors in the country is very small. When combined with the Oregon State Hospital’s request that their CPE Supervisor also fulfill the duties of a Native American Services Coordinator the number of qualified candidates is infinitesimal (there is only one Native American CPE Supervisor in the country and he is located on the east coast).

After participating in my own CPE experience at the Oregon State Hospital, where my specialization was in the spiritual/cultural care of indigenous peoples, I feel confident in stating that the tasks required of this new position are impossible for one person to fill. It is completely unreasonable to expect one person to both supervise the education of CPE students and tend to the myriad needs of the hospital’s diverse indigenous residents. The fact that the Oregon State Hospital’s job description does not contain requirements for cultural knowledge or competency and does not fulfill the ACPE guidelines of a CPE Supervisor leaves me fearful for the spiritual and cultural needs of the hospital’s indigenous patients and future CPE residents.

I am writing this letter in an effort to stop the Oregon State Hospital’s attempt to hire one person to fulfill the responsibilities of both the CPE Supervisor and the Native American Services Coordinator. I write because I see the Oregon State Hospital’s attempt to hire one person for the role of “CPE Supervisor and Native American Services Coordinator” as a threat to the cultural and spiritual well-being of the Oregon State Hospital’s indigenous resident population and as a threat to the success of the hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education program. I write because, as a traditionally endorsed and trained Native American spiritual care provider, I believe it is my responsibility to speak up for the spiritual and cultural needs of indigenous peoples.

To the Oregon State Hospital: I urge you to immediately withdraw the proposed job entitled “Clinical Pastoral Education Supervisor and Native American Coordinator” in order to thoroughly examine the best ways to provide for the cultural and spiritual needs of your indigenous residents while also upholding the integrity of your CPE program.

To Oregon Tribal Officials: I urge you to use the full weight of your sovereignty to intervene in this matter and ensure that the cultural and spiritual needs of our people, particularly of those unable to advocate for themselves, are upheld and protected.

To representatives of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education: I urge you to intervene in the Oregon State Hospital’s hiring process to uphold the dignity of your OSH CPE program.

Thank you for your time and for your just action.