May 262010

For some time now a plan to increase mental health services has been kept on the back burner.

oregon_state_hospital Building two new mental hospitals to replace the Oregon State Hospital in Salem doesn’t make sense during the worst recession in generations, critics say.

The two-hospital plan grew out of a state-commissioned report issued in 2006 — before the economy tanked, spinning off double-digit unemployment, reduced tax revenue to pay for state government and looming budget deficits.

"When the study was done, those were fat times in the state economy," said Robert Joondeph, executive director of Disability Rights Oregon, an advocacy group that monitors the hospital. "We’re looking at serious budget problems, so we have to figure out how to work smarter with the money we have."

The latest projections are for a $2.5 billion gap between what the state will bring in during the 2011-13 budget period and how much it will cost to provide the current level of service.

Joondeph said the state can’t afford to spend more than $120 million annually to operate the hospital in Junction City.

"It doesn’t make sense now," he said. "We have an upcoming budget cliff, and the state is on track to build yet another state mental hospital in Junction City, which it does not have the money to staff. And, by the state’s own studies, it has a community mental health budget that is woefully underfunded."

In fact, state legislators haven’t heeded the advice of a state-commissioned report that set the stage for building two new psychiatric hospitals.

The State Hospital Master Plan Phase II Report, issued in February 2006, recommended significant investment in community mental health services.

"Enhancing the breadth and depth of community-based services is a critical piece of the state hospital master plan," the report said. It warned, "Without the enhanced community programming, demand for Oregon State Hospital beds will substantially exceed projections of size and cost."…

…Spending vast sums of money for two new hospitals and keeping the community mental health system on a back burner means that many mentally ill Oregonians won’t receive the help they need, advocates said.

In the past decade, county jails and state prisons increasingly have become warehouses for mentally ill inmates. The statistics:

-Of the 540 criminal defendants booked into county jails each day, at least 20 percent of them have a serious mental illness, jail surveys show.

-Nearly half of the prisoners in Oregon’s 14,000-inmate state prison system are mentally ill, according to the Department of Corrections.

-About three-fourths of the patients housed at the state hospital were committed by criminal courts. They are housed in the hospital’s crowded forensic psychiatric program.

Advocates described the 450-patient forensic program as part prison, part hospital, part warehouse.

Patients deemed ready for discharge often languish at the hospital because of a shortage of community beds. Too often, released patients cycle back to the mental institution or land in jail because they don’t get enough support on the outside… [emphasis added]

Inserted from <The Statesman Journal>

Prison is no place for the severely mentally handicapped.  As a prisoner, I often saw such saw such individuals abused by other prisoners.  Overcrowding makes the situation worse.  Using correctional facilities to warehouse the mentally ill takes needed resources from rehabilitative programming and does little, if anything at all to meet the needs of the mentally ill prisoners.

As tight as budgets are, funds must be found for care for these people.  Oregon’s bloated prison construction program is a good place to start.