Lifeways recently received an ultimatum: change its ways or lose its contract.
The mental health provider responded by engaging consultant Paul Flanders to help the agency improve crisis services for Umatilla County.
In past months, Pendleton and Hermiston police chiefs and others have criticized Lifeways for leaving it up to law enforcement officers to de-escalate mental crises encountered on the streets. Often, they said, people in crisis end up in jail or back on the streets without receiving adequate treatment. They also complained that Lifeways won’t deal with people in mental crisis who are also intoxicated.
Kevin Campbell, CEO of contracting agency Greater Oregon Behavioral Health, Inc. issued a public statement in early January saying that if Lifeways didn’t make “key changes” by Feb. 20, its contract for crisis services in Umatilla County would be terminated.
Flanders could be just the one to put Lifeways on a better course, said Campbell. He said Flanders, the founder of the Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness, has worked in the trenches and recently retired from the Enterprise mental health center.
“He’s managed crisis services. He’s worked as a crisis worker. He’s worked with numerous community partners such as law enforcement, courts and hospitals,” Campbell said.
Flanders could not be reached for comment. A Wallowa Valley Center for Wellness representative said he worked as a clinician for the group for many years, and was one of the main crisis workers for the service.
GOBHI, as the contracting agency, has Lifeways’ fate in its hands. Campbell said the board met Feb. 8 to discuss the issue. Board members gave their approval for hiring Flanders.
“We took into consideration the progress that has been made to date,” Campbell said. “The action of the board was to hold in abeyance termination of the portion of mental health services contract for crisis services in Umatilla County.”
Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts, who has been involved with discussions with both Lifeways and GOBHI, said he thinks the group is making positive changes.
“One thing we have now that we didn’t have before is investment by the CEO,” he said, referring to Tim Hoekstra, who was hired in January.
He said they are working with law enforcement to close some of the gaps in following through with patients. He said that includes implementing a strategy that ensures that people in crisis are released to a responsible person, and to a safe location.
Roberts said he wasn’t so concerned with Lifeways making changes by the Feb. 20 deadline, as long as they continued to make them.
“That’s a pretty aggressive timeline,” Roberts said. “As long as I can see progress being made, I’m willing to play along. As far as I’m concerned, the probationary status is kind of ongoing until we get to where we need to be, and we’ve got a long path to travel.”
A previous name used by Paul Flanders was included in the original version of this story.