Is the Oregon State Hospital report worth the cost?

From the Salem Statesman Journal, April 12 2009

Judge’s comments don’t offer details – or anything new

A $250,000 report about the Oregon State Hospital may reveal more about state government than it does about the hospital.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski brought in retired Lane County Judge James Hargreaves as a special master more than a year ago to keep tabs on improvements at the hospital, which faced the threat of a federal civil-rights lawsuit. In February, Hargreaves submitted a 14-page report titled, “Governor’s Special Master Oregon State Hospital Excellence Final Report.”

Now taxpayers are left wondering: Was this a good investment — at more than $15,000 a page — or was the special master merely window dressing?

The hospital houses 627 patients, primarily at its Salem campus as well as some in Portland. In his report, Hargreaves made worthwhile observations about Oregon’s failures in mental health care; but for the most part, his comments are neither new nor detailed.

The state is embarking on a multi-million-dollar transition in mental health care, as it builds new hospitals and expands the OSH staff. Taxpayers — as well as public officials throughout government — have the right to know what’s going on.

However, the Hargreaves report wasn’t released to the public, legislators or the OSH superintendent until the Statesman Journal recently inquired about its existence.

There appears to be confusion within government about the purpose of the Hargreaves report. But there should have been no confusion about officials’ obligation to promptly release it.

OSH, and Oregon’s mental health system in general, have been sadly neglected for generations. That is changing. The hospital has made significant strides under Superintendent Roy Orr, who’s been on the job for a year.

Following a series of high-profile escapes and other incidents, security has improved. So have the hospital’s working relationships with area law enforcement agencies and community organizations.

Hiring of nurses and other employees has increased, although there still is far too much mandatory overtime. The use of seclusion and physical restraints to control patients has decreased substantially.

And last week contractors started demolishing part of the 19th century campus in Salem to make way for a modern, more-therapeutic hospital.

The Kulongoski administration points to these and other improvements as evidence of Hargreaves’ worth. The governor’s aides say that Hargreaves met regularly with state officials to discuss hospital progress, and that the report merely reflects his departing thoughts.

That’s certainly what the report reads like — a reflection paper. It contains no documentation or evidence to support Hargreaves’ contentions, which is a lost opportunity for Oregonians.

In the report, the special master recommended hiring more outside consultants for the state hospital. Before heading down that path, the state should make sure it will get a worthwhile return on its investment.