I am responding to a comment attributed to Senator Bill Hansell in the Nov. 22 edition of the East Oregonian, regarding the scheduled closure of Blue Mountain Recovery Center next year. Sen. Hansell was quoted as saying “It’s not up to BMRC or OSH (Oregon State Hospital) to figure out what to do, it ’s in the community’s hands, particularly the city leadership.” Although willing and strongly invested in working to find a solution to repurpose BMRC in a way that is beneficial to our community, this is not solely the city’s responsibility. The BMRC facility is state-owned, not city-owned. Expecting the city to “figure it out” after the state abandons BMRC is akin to telling your neighbor what to do with their house after they move out. As they used to say when I lived further south, “that dog don’t hunt.”

Take a drive past the former Eastern Oregon Training Center across the street from BMRC to see what a fine job the state did when they closed that facility in 2009. That closure resulted in the loss of 150 family wage jobs and came with Joint House Resolution 51 which stipulated that “any closure of the Eastern Oregon Training Center be coupled with an economic development plan for the city of Pendleton, including a study of alternate uses for the Eastern Oregon Training Center.” That never happened and the site is mostly abandoned and left to disrepair, creating a blighted area of town.

The 60-bed BMRC facility in Pendleton has been recommended for closure nearly every biennium over the past 10 years. In 2007 the Oregon State Hospital master plan was approved by the governor, authorizing the legislature to construct a new 620-bed hospital in Salem by 2011 and a new 360-bed hospital in Junction City by 2013. The Salem hospital was completed in 2012 and Junction City will not be complete until 2015. With the completion of the two new hospitals, Portland State Hospital and Blue Mountain Recovery Center were to be closed and “enhanced community mental health systems” were to be put into place east of the Cascades. The master plan emphasized that without enhanced community mental health programing, demand for OHS beds will exceed projections of size and cost, causing the plan to fail. Although Junction City is not yet opened, BMRC is now scheduled to close in March 2014. I am not aware of any schedule to close Portland State Hospital.

The master plan also recognized that the closure of BMRC will result in a significant loss of mental health and economic resources (117 jobs, 2 percent of our workforce) in Eastern Oregon and Pendleton, and required the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to:

• Convene a workgroup comprised of the appropriate representatives of the various stakeholder groups.

• Identify future options for BMRC staff and facilities.

• Advise the legislature and the Oregon Health Authority on the best utilization of the current facilities.

• Identify additional capital improvements to provide the above-identified services.

Beginning in 2012 with input, support and assistance of mental health partners from Eastern Oregon and OHA, a plan to provide the enhanced mental health services called for in the master plan was developed. The plan was reviewed and endorsed by the Pendleton city council. After more than a year’s worth of effort, OHA rejected the proposal at the close of the 2013 legislative session and proceeded with a plan to replace the 60-bed BMRC facility with three 5-bed facilities on the former EOTC campus.

OHA has been advised that the three 5-bed facilities are inadequate to meet the needs of the nine counties in Eastern Oregon they are alleged to serve, and falls short of providing the “enhanced” community mental health services envisioned by the mental health master plan. It was not until August 2013 that OHA formed a workgroup intended to identify future options for BMRC, ostensibly to meet the requirements of the legislative mandate noted above. This workgroup has met three times since convening in August, and has restricted the representation from the city of Pendleton to include only the chief of police. Beyond this limited workgroup, OHA has made no attempt to work with city leadership on this issue.

Pendleton stands ready, willing, and able to proceed. To do so, we need OHA to make good on the legislative mandate to work with us and other appropriate stakeholders in identifying viable options to repurpose BMRC. We cannot do it on our own.


Chuck Wood is a Pendleton city councilman representing Ward 2.

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