Set for closure in January 2014, Blue Mountain Recovery Center received a promise of funding through March because of the work of local legislators.

But even with the extension, Pendleton’s psychiatric hospital is rapidly shrinking.

BMRC had 24 patients on Monday. By Friday, it will house 15 — a far cry from its capacity of 60.

Superintendent Kerry Kelly said it’s all part of the plan to safely close the facility by March, but some are concerned the hospital will shut its doors sooner than expected.

Robert McConnell has worked at the psychiatric hospital for the last 14 years as a mental health therapist. McConnell said he’s shocked at the rate both clients and staff are leaving.

“It’s like we’re being forced into a situation where they’ll close soon regardless of the extension,” he said.

Hospital employees have rebid for their jobs three times since summer. Kelly said at the beginning of November — the latest head count — staff was at 96. She said several more employees will be retiring this month.

OSH spokeswoman Rebeka Gibson-King said the state made no obligation of the hospital to keep a set number of patients or staff.

In exchange for receiving $2.4 million for the three-month life support, Gibson-King said BMRC’s obligation is simply to stay open through the end of March.

“(Staffing) really depends on the number of patients,” she said. “We just want to make sure we have enough staff to maintain quality patient care.”

Prior to the three-month funding extension championed by local legislators Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, and Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, Oregon State Hospital planned to open two wards of 52 beds in Salem to accommodate BMRC’s clientele.

That’s still happening. BMRC stopped taking new patients in October and began diverting them to OSH.

The only difference, Kelly said, is that BMRC can now keep the patients who would have been discharged into the community between January and March. Those with longer inpatient stays are being transferred to OSH.

But McConnell said he doesn’t know why the hospital is so eager to discharge patients five months before closure. He said he believes the extra funding could better be used to shorten the packed wait list for Oregon psychiatric hospitals, not make it longer.

“The premise should be to admit clients from the wait list and that’s not happening,” McConnell said. “At this rate, they’ll effectively close the place.”

Kelly said she couldn't say how many of the 15 patients will leave in the next few months. She added there's plenty of work to do, even with fewer patients, to close up the hospital.

“There are 100 years of medical records we still have to archive,” Kelly said. “Even after we no longer have clients, there will be a considerable amount of work for people to do.”

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Contact Natalie Wheeler at nwheeler@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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