Group home in Newberg gingerly carves out relationship with local police

KOIN 6 News, June 2, 2014

Newberg group home

Newberg group home

The Department of Human Services and Newberg police agree there haven’t been many law enforcement problems at a group home on Charles Street.

But after the attack Friday by a man who escaped the home and beat a woman and her 7-year-old son, police complained the state doesn’t pass along any information about who is staying in the home or what their history is.

The home is part of a DHS program called Stabilization and Crisis Unit (SACU) that “provides a safety net for Oregon’s most vulnerable, intensive, medically and behaviorally challenged individuals with developmental disabilities,” DHS Communications Director Gene Evans in an email to KOIN 6 News.

There are 23 residential homes between Portland and Eugene, serving 108 people — 98 of them adults, Evans said. SACU is part of the overall developmental disabilities system.

“As difficult as it has been to see people get hurt and deal with situations we’re having to face, it really is a small, small overall percentage of the work we do,” SACU director Jana McLellan told KOIN 6 News.

When asked why they didn’t share information with Newberg police, McLelland said, “We can’t share it because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).”

Only about 20% of the 108 people in the program have criminal records. But Richard Wright, the man arrested Friday after the attack, has charges that include assaulting a public safety officer.

That was dismissed because of mental incompetency.

But Wright is the type of person police want to know about.

McLelland said she understands the concerns, and while there is a privacy line she can’t legally cross, she would be willing to share more with the Newberg police.

“We’re always looking for the potential to sit with law enforcement and have the conversations about what we can communicate in a real confidential setting that makes their job as easy as it can be in situations that are very difficult,” she said.

They’ve been meeting with Marion County law enforcement for several months, she said, and added they would be willing to do the same in all the communities where SACU has homes.