Oregon State Hospital superintendent to retire

Salem Statesman-Journal, May 4, 2016

Oregon State Hospital Superintendent Greg Roberts will retire at the end of the year.

During an interview at the State Hospital on Wednesday, Roberts said he was hired to improve the hospital, and that job is done. He said he believes the State Hospital is now the best institution of its kind in the nation.

Roberts added that he is not being forced out of his position; he promised his wife he’d stay in the job for only five years, but he’s now in his sixth. That, and he has reached retirement age after a 43-year career, 26 of which were spent as superintendent of state mental institutions.

Roberts became superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital in 2010, relocating from New Jersey where he was a mental hospital administrator. A what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy, Roberts’ specialty was turning around problematic mental hospitals.

At the time he arrived in Oregon, consultants said the hospital was “rudderless,” having been overseen by six different superintendents in six years.

Shortly after Roberts started, patients moved into new buildings on the hospital grounds. A new hospital campus has opened in Junction City and the state has invested millions to improve treatments since Roberts took over.

The result? Patient abuse, recidivism and violence against staff by patients have declined. Mandatory overtime for staff has been nearly eliminated. Average length of stay for voluntary patients has been cut in half.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who was on the search committee that hired Roberts, said the superintendent has done a good job bringing about a “more enlightened attitude” toward mental health treatment in Oregon.

Bob Joondeph, executive director of advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon, said Roberts is the best OSH superintendent he’s seen since becoming an advocate in 1986.

“I think not only does he understand what it takes to turn around an institution and change its culture, but he’s just a problem solver,” Joondeph said.

The hospital serves more than 1,400 people per year. The Salem campus has room for 620 people at a time, while the Junction City campus has room for 174. About 2,000 staff members work at the two campuses.