Aspen Springs

Lifeways CEO Tim Hoekstra, center, prepares to cut the ribbon at a celebration for the opening of the organization's new Aspen Springs Psychiatric Hospital in Hermiston.

HERMISTON — Eastern Oregon residents in crisis will have access to acute care closer to home with the opening of Aspen Springs Psychiatric Hospital in Hermiston.

The 16-bed hospital at 1212 Linda Avenue is run by Lifeways, Inc., a community mental health provider whose services cover parts of Eastern Oregon and Idaho. Lifeways held a ribbon cutting celebration for the facility on Thursday, June 24.

“We’re just really excited to start serving the community,” said Aspen Springs Administrator Jana Flatau.

She said it should just take a few more days for the state to do its final licensing survey before they can start taking patients who are experiencing an acute mental health crisis and need inpatient care.

“Our main focus will be Eastern Oregon, but we will be serving the entire state,” she said.

Oregon’s shortage of beds for psychiatric patients has been a topic of concern across the state, but particularly in Eastern Oregon. Umatilla County Commissioner John Shafer said there has been a “staggering lack of help available to those in crisis” in the region.

He criticized state government for cutting thousands of mental health beds, including the Blue Mountain Recovery Center in Pendleton in 2014. He said too many times during his law enforcement career he saw Umatilla County residents jailed because there wasn’t a bed in a facility like Aspen Springs available for them anywhere in the state.

“They’ve turned our jail into a mental health facility, and our corrections staff are not mental health professionals,” he said.

Shafer said people living with mental illness and their families deserve better care and Aspen Springs will provide that.

He said he has heard area residents say they were afraid to send their loved ones to inpatient mental health treatment in a secure facility because they didn’t want them “locked up like a common criminal.” But when he toured Aspen Springs he was pleasantly surprised by how warm and inviting the building was.

During the June 24 ribbon-cutting ceremony, Dennis Burke, CEO of Good Shepherd Health Care System, told the audience that people in a mental health crisis often end up in the hospital’s emergency room. When that happened, it was not unusual for them to end up being transported across the state for the inpatient mental health care they need.

“Finding a place to put that individual is a challenge,” he said.

He said Good Shepherd had looked at a lot of options for inpatient mental health care in the past, but recruiting professionals themselves proved difficult and when they looked at various private organizations “nothing felt right.” He said they are excited about Lifeways’ project and looking forward to working closely with Lifeways to provide future care.

Flatau told the East Oregonian that treating someone in the same town as their support system of family and friends can help their transition to another level of care after they are stabilized.

Aspen Springs provides individual bedrooms and bathrooms for each patient. Everything in the rooms is designed with patient safety in mind, such as the lightweight mats stuck to the wall with Velcro that provide privacy in the bathroom area but prevent a patient from barricading themselves inside. Patients also have access to common areas, including a fenced courtyard and a room where they can watch television or play games, and other rooms where they can meet in private with a therapist or family member.

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