ShelterCare says red ink means Royal Avenue Program has to go, leaving 19 less crisis beds in Eugene

The Register-Guard, Sept. 6, 2014

After serving mentally ill people for 27 years, Eugene’s Royal Avenue Program 19-bed mental health crisis shelter will be closed and locked up indefinitely on Sept. 15 following a loss of state funding that one official says created a “cascading series of events.”

Flora Turnbull on the phone at the shelter.

Flora Turnbull speaks on the phone at the shelter.

The motel-style residential center on Highway 99 North is owned and operated by ShelterCare, a Eugene nonprofit agency.

As part of ShelterCare’s crisis management and intensive care system, the Royal Avenue Program faced loss of state funding for services for so-called indigent clients — those who cannot afford to pay for services — said Lucy Vinis, development director for ShelterCare. The annual funding loss totaled about $333,000, or one-third of the program’s annual budget, Vinis said.

The closure will cut a hole in the safety net that’s supposed to protect low-income mentally ill people during crises.

“(The program) was unique,” Vinis said. “Those clients will have to go to the (PeaceHealth) Johnson Unit or just end up in the jail, because it’s not safe for them on the streets.”

To partly soften the impact, Lane County is using some state money to provide housing with a total of four beds for the mentally ill.

The Royal Avenue Program offered beds plus short-term care provided by caseworkers and counselors to help prevent or to shorten mental health hospitalization for families in crisis and adults with mental illnesses or acquired brain illness. The shelter accommodated 19 people at a time, usually housing them for about a week while they moved into other treatment. Last year, the shelter served 369 people.

The center is a former motel at 780 Highway 99N.

The program offered a “highly cost effective and appropriate level of care for individuals,” and did “not require intensive treatment in a psychiatric hospital setting,” according to ShelterCare’s website.

The Royal Avenue Program employs 17 people. The employees displaced by the closing can apply for other ShelterCare jobs. ShelterCare’s website shows 28 different jobs including administrative receptionist, cook and peer advocate.

“We’re hoping the ultimate job loss won’t be at 17,” Vinis said.
The closure of the facility is tied to Oregon’s expansion of the Oregon Health Plan — the state’s version of Medicaid — to give health and mental health insurance coverage to more low-income residents.

“The reason the state cut funds wasn’t to be mean,” said Jason Davis, Lane County public health spokesman. “They cut the funds because Medicaid expansion and (the Oregon Health Plan) was covering some of those people.”

Davis said the expansion of the Oregon Health Plan means there are fewer indigent, uninsured mentally ill people who need short-term crisis housing.

Davis added that “money was available for the Royal Avenue Program, but (ShelterCare) wasn’t able to make it work with the funds available.”

By expanding the Oregon Health Plan to more low-income people, in theory the need for nonprofit agencies to offer free services — such as the Royal Avenue Program — to indigent people will decline, as more clients instead use their state health insurance to obtain services.

With fewer clients in those indigent programs, the state is reducing contracts with those agencies.

“Instead, the (Oregon) Legislature has invested these general fund dollars into the state’s community mental health system,” said Michael Morris, mental health administrator for the state.

Lane County government and other providers in the county are still receiving funds for intermediate and short-term mental health respite beds, he said.

With the Royal Avenue Program unable to operate under the reduced funding model, the county plans to rent two two-bedroom apartments where people with mental issues can live short-term and receive help from a professional staff and support from Laurel Hill Center, Lane County Behavioral Health Services and the Adult Mental Health Initiative.

The Laurel Hill Center was selected after two bidding procedures for the funding. The first round drew three responses, including one from ShelterCare, but the county had to request a new round of proposals after the state changed funding rules. The second round drew zero responses, leading Lane County to select Laurel Hill Center.

“They already had services available in that same basic format, sort of ready-made,” Davis said.

The county will pay $17,600 annually for the apartments.