Psychiatric facility plan challenged

From the Salem Statesman Journal, December 5 2008

Senator Alan Bates questions cost, effectiveness of Junction City site

State Senator Alan Bates

State Senator Alan Bates

State legislators should reconsider plans to build a 360-bed psychiatric facility in Junction City, a state senator said Thursday.

Sen. Alan Bates, D-Ashland, said the planned Lane County mental hospital, about an hour south of Salem, will cost too much money and move the state’s mental health reform efforts in the wrong direction.

“It’s like going out and drilling for more oil instead of going green,” he said during a Human Services Subcommittee meeting of the Legislative Emergency Board.

Instead of building a new hospital in Junction City, Bates, a physician, said he favors creating smaller 16-bed regional treatment facilities and funneling more money into community-based programs and services designed to prevent hospitalization for people with mental illness.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said in an interview Thursday that he was taken aback by Bates’ call for the 2009 Legislature to consider shelving the Junction City project.

“We have set a course for how we are going to deal with the mental health crisis in this state, and we have set it in terms of two institutions,” Courtney said.

“That (Junction City) facility is very much needed to come on line two years after the facility in Salem if we are going to handle our mental health population in the humane ways that we must,” he said. “At this stage of the game, to ignore the realities of not having that facility would put us in a very difficult position.”

State plans strongly supported by Courtney and Gov. Ted Kulongoski call for opening a 620-bed hospital in Salem by 2011 and the 360-bed facility in Junction City by 2013.

Both facilities are intended to replace the crumbling 125-year-old Oregon State Hospital in Salem — the oldest facility of its kind still being used for patient care on the West Coast. It has been deemed obsolete and unsafe by state-hired consultants and federal investigators.

Budgeted costs for building the two new psychiatric hospitals are $458 million.

As approved by the Legislature, state financing for the new mental hospitals will come through the sale of certificates of participation, or COPs.

COPs commonly are used in Oregon to pay for new public buildings. COPs are sold to investors whose interest income is exempt from state and federal taxes.

In raising concerns about the Junction City project, Bates said he was alarmed by estimated operating costs for the facility, starting at $213.7 million in the 2013-15 budget period.

“The cost is huge, and it’s an ongoing cost,” Bates said.

Unlike construction costs, operational costs for the psychiatric facility would draw on the state’s general fund budget, which pays for a wide range of programs and services, including schools, prisons and social services.

John Britton, a state budget analyst with the Legislative Fiscal Office, also called for reopening discussions about building the Junction City hospital.

In a report that came before the legislative panel, he wrote: “We recognize that a decision has already been made to build, and that there could be savings by beginning the Junction City project earlier than originally expected, but the 2009 legislative session would provide another opportunity to review Junction City and possible alternatives.”

Linda Hammond, the hospital replacement administrator for the state Department of Human Services, said in an interview Thursday that she wasn’t surprised by new calls for reconsideration of the Junction City project.

“I’m not surprised that in this current environment people are looking at everything and every way they possibly can” to reduce current and long-term state spending, she said.

Hammond said she would need time to determine how pulling the plug on the Junction City project would alter the two-hospital funding package authorized by lawmakers.

“We can, I’m sure, provide additional thinking to give folks a more full evaluation of what the impact would be, but it’s not something that I would be able to do off the top of my head,” she said.