MILTON-FREEWATER - Due to cutbacks in state funding, the Umatilla County Mental Health Department clinic in Milton-Freewater will close at the end of June.

"We will continue to provide services in the Milton-Freewater area, but we will do it in a manner other than that clinic office," said Connie Caplinger, county director of Health and Human Services.

Umatilla County commissioners approved the closure Tuesday.

When the clinic in the Roff Building at 801 S. Main closes, most of the services will likely shift over to the Public Health building at 705 E. Broadway, which the county owns and has extra space, Caplinger said.

"In consolidating there may be some limits on the types of services," said Charles Carnes, clinical service program manager with the Mental Health Department.

For instance, functions like assessment and enrollment "might have to be done in Pendleton," he said.

The consolidation is necessary, Carnes said, because staffing cutbacks at the state level meant the county department did not have enough people to staff mental health clinics in Pendleton, Hermiston and Milton-Freewater.

"The funding for mental health has been cut absolutely to the bone. There is no fat or much muscle left in the system due to the cutbacks," said Dr. Joel Rice, medical director for the department. "Our choices now are to either cut back on overhead or what are critical, pivotal services."

Caplinger estimated moving from the Roff Building to the public health building would save about $2,100 monthly in overhead. The plan did not include any layoffs.

"The object is to continue to provide the services in the area, just in a different service delivery model than in the past," she said.

Carnes noted "there will still be someone on a full-time basis in Milton-Freewater, but not a full clinic on any given day."

The Milton-Freewater clinic has provided alcohol and drug treatment services to about 100 people and 130 mental health patients, Carnes said.

"We're going to go to more group therapy in order to more efficiently handle the numbers with the limited staff numbers we have," he said.

If funding levels were to return to normal levels, the department would examine reopening a full-service clinic in Milton-Freewater, Caplinger said.

The commissioners approved the closure reluctantly.

"I can support it but would rather I didn't have to," Commissioner Dennis Doherty said.

"It is not what I would like to see, but it is the best we have under the circumstances," Commissioner Bill Hansell said.


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