(This post originally appeared as a Letter to the Editor in the December 19, 2016 edition of The Register-Guard.)
Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget would close the state hospital in Junction City. This is a hard decision, but the right one. Disability Rights Oregon applauds her wisdom and guts.
Oregon needs to invest more in local, community mental health services. Because of a tight state budget, we can’t continue to serve fewer people in much more expensive state hospital beds.
Too many people in Oregon can’t get the housing and support to stay out of crisis, emergency departments and jail. Roughly half of state dollars in our mental health budget go to state hospitals. Community services cost less, and the federal government picks up two thirds of that lower cost.
Spending too much on state hospitals violates rights of patients under the American Disabilities Act not to be needlessly segregated in institutions. Oregon recently signed a three-year deal to avoid a lawsuit that would assert those rights. In it, communities are to be given the money and authority needed to divert people with serious mental illness out of jail and into local treatment. This needs to happen.
Yes, the economy of Junction City has been boosted by the new state hospital. Repurposing it to serve another need could be a win-win. But keeping the status quo will hold Oregon back from helping more people. Those struggling with severe mental illness should not continue to end up in the hospital because they or their families could not find help in their community.
DISABILITY RIGHTS OREGON