Umatilla County’s mental health provider has been given until Feb. 20 to make key changes to its crisis services or risk losing its contract.
Lifeways Inc., the community mental health program in Umatilla County, was put on notice by its administrative organization, Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc.
In a statement, GOBHI CEO Kevin Campbell said Lifeways will likely need to hire an outside consultant to oversee the program.
“It has become quite clear that things are not improving fast enough,” he said in the release. “We believe that it’s time for Lifeways, Inc. to get some outside help.”
Campbell said he could not say who the consultant would be, but that it would be someone from within Oregon. He said the goal of the new position would be to listen to community partners, meet the needs of law enforcement and get a mobile crisis service completely functional.
“We think that will happen quicker if [...] the outside party is accountable to both Lifeways and GOBHI,” he said. “We’re not talking about taking over the program — we’re talking about bringing in professional help.”
Campbell said Lifeways had been trying to improve their crisis response over the past several months, but the pace of improvement needed to be quicker.
Judy Cordeniz, the outgoing CEO of Lifeways, said GOBHI had not discussed their announcement with her prior to a pointed press release Friday.
“I had not heard of this, so I’m not going to comment,” she said. “I can assure you that Lifeways will do what we need to do to ensure that clients and service areas are adequately taken care of.”
Also on Friday, Lifeways announced new CEO Tim Hoekstra, who will oversee the organization’s services in Hermiston, Pendleton, Umatilla, Milton-Freewater and Ontario. Calls to Hoekstra were not returned by press time.
Umatilla County Commissioner George Murdock is a board member of GOBHI. He said he was not surprised by the announcement, as there have been many discussions about concerns with crisis services in the county.
“About a month ago, all the law enforcement officers in Umatilla County signed a letter to GOBHI indicating that they needed a new source of crisis intervention services,” Murdock said. “They submitted it to GOBHI and the GOBHI board.”
Campbell said he had received the letter.
“I’d say (the letter) as much as anything was the catalyst for speeding up the changes,” he said. “I think Lifeways has been trying very hard, but when you get behind the eight ball, help can be appreciated.”
He said goals for Lifeways would include decreased reliance on emergency rooms and jails for people in mental health crisis. He said that could include assessing people in need at home or in the streets, instead of automatically transporting them to a hospital or jail.
“That’s something the entire state has been pushing for the last several years,” he said.
Murdock said the Aspen Springs facility, which is being constructed in Hermiston and is slated to be run by Lifeways, could be one part of a solution. The facility, which he said is still in the licensing phase, has 16 beds to hold people in crisis.
“I think if we can get some true changes (to Lifeways) in the next 60 to 90 days, it would enhance the operations of Aspen Springs,” he said.
The changes comes just days after an incident with a man in crisis caused local law enforcement to note problems that have stemmed from a lack of mental health services in the county.
Peyton Hobbs, 24, smashed a window at the Hermiston Police Department Wednesday, then demanded officers arrest him. Police arrested Hobbs, who is known to officers and the community and has a history of mental illness, for criminal mischief. He was lodged at the Umatilla County Jail. Hermiston Police Chief Jason Edmiston said as of Thursday afternoon, Hobbs was no longer in jail and had been turned over to Saint Anthony Hospital.
Edmiston said he received a message from a sergeant early Thursday morning that Lifeways had placed a direct hold on Hobbs and requested that the Sheriff’s Office transport him to St. Anthony.
“He was not released from jail — he was taken from jail by Lifeways,” Edmiston said.
Edmiston said he did not know why Hobbs was transferred in the middle of the night.
“I spoke with a family member (of Hobbs) who was trying to find out where he was,” Edmiston said.
Though he did not identify any specific entities, Edmiston on Thursday said he was frustrated with the lack of mental health services in the county, and concerned with the increased pressure on police to handle people in mental crisis.
“At what point do we say the police can only do so much?” he said. “I am concerned at this trend of ‘train the police more.’”
Edmiston said 20 of his department’s 27 sworn officers have received crisis intervention training. But he said their training does not always ensure mental health professionals will follow through once the initial crisis has passed.
“We send officers off to a weeklong training, and tell them, if you do A, B, C, then X, Y, Z will happen,” he said. “(The officers) do A, B, C, and often X and maybe Y will happen.”
He admitted that law enforcement doesn’t always know what roadblocks mental health professionals face in trying to provide their services, but that based on comments he received on his press release, many people had witnessed the lack of resources when it comes to mental health resources.
“I still want to be a glass half full type of person,” he said. “But after 20-plus years in this profession, I’ve seen enough that it can be very difficult to remain optimistic.”
Murdock said he did not think the announcement Friday was a direct result of Edmiston’s comments. Edmiston himself did not have a comment on GOBHI’s announcement.