SALEM - People who live or work at the Oregon State Hospital say they are skeptical that a scathing report from the federal Justice Department will lead to real reform.
The report released last week criticized nearly every facet of conditions and care at the crumbling mental hospital in Salem that was the setting for the film "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." The problems included patient-on-patient assaults, excessive use of restraints, medication errors, lapses in supervision, flawed nursing care and inadequate psychiatric treatment.
Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, intends to quickly create a legislative oversight committee to monitor progress toward hospital reforms. He said improving the hospital enough to pass federal muster is the most pressing issue confronting state leaders.
"I want the committee to come up with deadlines that have to be met," he said.
But Sheila Watters, 56, will have to see the changes to believe them. She said her roommate was the victim of the type of violence noted by investigators.
"This is a really hairy, scary place," she said in an interview with the Statesman-Journal newspaper. "The worst part is the patient-on-patient (violence), I think. That happens on a weekly basis. Sometimes, much, much more."
Watters and several other patients and staff members vouched for the accuracy of the Justice Department report. Patient Todd Bell scoffed at the notion of significant improvements. "They don't care about this place," he said.
Lew Cronenberg, a mental health therapist who has worked at the psychiatric facility for nearly 15 years, said it shouldn't have taken the Justice Department to spur talk of action.
"I think it's awful that the legislators and these other people are acting like this is a new crisis," he said. "It's like, 'Come on, people,' the train has been coming down the track for a long time here.
"There's a little warmth in my heart to know that there are some legislators going, 'Yeah, we really dropped the ball on this one.' Well, no kidding, you really dropped the ball on it. You dropped the ball on it 20 years ago."
Courtney said the threat of federal litigation partly explains why the Justice Department's report won't be ignored like some previous reports on the hospital.