After threatening to turn down more than $6 million from the state to build housing for people with behavioral health issues, the Marion County Board of Commissioners turned course Wednesday and accepted the funding.
The commissioners in September discussed turning down the money as a response to the state releasing patients from the Oregon State Hospital in Salem before they had been found to be capable of helping in their own defense at trial.
That came after the hospital released individuals before they had gone to trial.
“I would tomorrow give this money back to the state to help them fix the state hospital,” Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis said. “The state has to fix that problem, and until they fix that problem, we’re going to continue to have very sick people harming themselves and others in our community.”
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In August, a federal judge ruled patients held at the state hospital – a psychiatric hospital owned by the state and run by the Oregon Health Authority – who are being treated to become stable enough to aid in their defense on criminal charges must be released if they are not able to defend themselves.
The state was required to release patients on “aid and assist” accused of misdemeanors within 90 days and those charged with felonies in six months. That was a change from the previous three years.
The state hospital then announced it would return more than 100 patents early.
In September, the county commissioners tabled the decision, stating they wanted more information from the OHA about the program.
The $6,318,421.64 agreement with the OPHA is earmarked for housing including residential treatment facilities, adult foster homes and supported housing units.
The money to fund the program is part of a $100 million appropriation from the state Legislature to help with behavioral health housing.
At a work session with the commissioners in October, OHA staff members said the grant money was not due to the court decision.
OHA staff members explained the money must be used for behavioral health housing and not for funding needs of the state hospital like emergency staffing to deal with the backlog of patients.
“This is not connected to the mismanagement of the Oregon State Hospital,” Marion County Commissioner Kevin Cameron said. “However, it is connected to the state neglecting their duties to take care of things. And I do appreciate that we’re going to have this funding.”
Cameron said he was concerned about funding for continued operation of the behavioral health housing.
He pointed to the Justice Reinvestment Act, a bill that passed while he served in the House of Representatives. He said that every year, he has to go to the state capital and remind legislators of the need to fund that program.
“This is going to be another one of those cases that we’re going to have to go over there and say where is the funding going to come from to support these facilities and these operations that we’re putting up today,” Cameron said .
As part of the behavioral health housing program, Marion County will put the building and operation of the housing out to bid to private operators.
“When those (proposals) come in, if those partners cannot prove that they have a sustainable funding source and a healthy relationship with the Oregon Health Authority, then I won’t support the allocation of these funds and I will ask to send them back to the Oregon Health Authority,” Danielle Bethell said.
Bill Poehler covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com