Garlington spared, but cuts are in its future

From the Oregonian, July 23, 2008

Care – The county allows Cascadia keep the mental health clinic open after protests

Maggielean President said she never lost faith. She prayed that the Garlington Center, a Northeast Portland clinic where she and hundreds of others received mental health services, would keep its doors open despite the struggles of its operator, Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare.

On Tuesday, she learned that her prayers — and the vocal protests of many others — had been answered.

After an outpouring of community opposition to plans to shutter the Garlington Center and divide clients among other providers, Multnomah County leaders agreed to allow Cascadia to keep operating the clinic, which serves mostly low-income, minority residents.

“It means a lot to us,” said President, a member of the Garlington client council. “We still have someplace to go and someone to care for us.”

The reversal highlights the continuing uncertainty around Cascadia’s future more than two months after a $2.5 million government bailout lifted the state’s largest provider of mental health services from the brink of bankruptcy.

Still, Cascadia must cut costs substantially to survive the year, and that means sticking to its earlier commitment to give up at least two of its five clinics as part of a larger downsizing effort, said Jana McLellan, an aide to county Chairman Ted Wheeler.

Because Cascadia is keeping Garlington, county leaders told the company that it will have to transfer control of its downtown mental health clinic, which serves many of the county’s most severely mentally ill, to another provider.

Central City Concern, which the county asked to take over the clinic, is spending a month studying the programs and finances to see if a deal is viable.

“We have to look at this carefully,” Executive Director Ed Blackburn [pictured right] said.

Cascadia also runs another clinic in Northeast Portland and the urgent walk-in clinic in Southeast Portland. The company is in the process of transferring a clinic in Gresham to Lifeworks Northwest.

Garlington was the only clinic scheduled to close rather than have its clients transferred to new management. As the most unprofitable of Cascadia’s clinics, it was identified to be cut by Cascadia CEO Derald Walker. But when pressed at a June public meeting, Walker said he made a mistake and pledged to support the clinic, prompting surprised county leaders to make a similar pledge.

State Sen. Avel Gordly of Portland helped lead the charge to save Garlington and said she would continue her effort to help stabilize the local mental health system.

“There is so much more to be accomplished,” she said. “But it’s good to take a few minutes to celebrate the victory.”