By BILL LUNDQUIST
GOLD BEACH A two-hour meeting with county and state officials Monday night failed to convince many Rogue Hill residents that a mental health residential treatment home should be placed in their neighborhood.
The Curry County commissioners also remained split on the issue.
Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf closed the meeting with an impassioned speech in support of continuing the process of placing the home in the Rogue Hills subdivision.
Commissioners Marlyn Schafer and Lucie La Bont remained undecided, and wanted more time to digest what they had learned at the meeting.
The commissioners scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Friday in the Commissioners' Hearing Room to make a final decision.
They said no further public comments will be taken at that meeting.
The Curry County Human Services Department rolled out the red carpet Monday night for its neighbors, who were given plenty of time to ask questions of county and state officials both during and after the meeting.
All 50 seats were filled, and about 20 more people stood around the perimeter of the room. Still more listened from the hall.
Not all were Rogue Hills neighbors. People also came from throughout the community to support the treatment home, including several who had benefitted from mental health services.
Facilitator Jean Smith, from the Coastal Center in Coos Bay, was brought in as a neutral party to conduct the meeting in an orderly fashion.
Schaaf opened the meeting by saying the commissioners had heard the concerns of the neighbors "loud and clear."
Human Services Director Deb Wilson echoed that sentiment and outlined what she believed to be the eight major concerns of the neighbors.
She and the other officials spent about 40 minutes addressing those concerns one by one, then opened the meeting up to questions.
Notification of the Neighborhood
Wilson apologized to the neighbors for failing to notify them about plans to place the treatment home in their neighborhood.
"This was my responsibility," she said. "I really do regret we did not inform you."
Wilson said she has been in the community for 25 years, and agreed with the neighbors that it was a great place to raise children.
She assured the neighbors that "there is no harm coming to your children and I'll take the responsibility for it."
She said Human Services treats children. "The children are foremost in our minds."
"We do no harm," said Wilson, "that's the nature of our business. We would never put the home here if we thought it would harm anyone in the community.
"It was not our intention to hide anything from you. We had no idea you would be so concerned and interested. We were surprised."
Wilson said Human Services has served the mentally ill every day for the past two years at its location on the edge of the Rogue Hills subdivision.
She said her job is to serve a lot of groups of people. A home for the mentally ill would meet one of those needs.
"We can meet the need for a supervised home this year, or it might not happen again," she said.
"We need to be given the chance to earn your trust through our words and actions."
Location of the Home
Wilson said Frank Moore, from the Oregon Mental Health and Addiction Service Office, told her he would have to take away Curry County's state funds for adult foster care and give it to another county, unless the money was used soon.
Wilson said Curry County had not been able to find a location for such a home, and partner counties were no longer taking Curry's clients.
She said that within a couple of weeks, however, she found just the sort of home she had been looking for for five years.
The single-story Rogue Hills home had five bedrooms and an open common area and kitchen.
Wilson still needed a skilled provider to run the home, and found who she was looking for at Human Services' MINDS Clubhouse.
The home was also close to the Human Services buildings and its necessary support services.
By the middle of May, said Wilson, Human Services was "ready to roll" on converting the house into an adult foster care home.
Moore, however, had encouraged her to consider making it a residential treatment home.
She said he told her there would be more money available for such a project, and the home would be more secure with state monitoring and controls on the staff.
Population to be Served
Moore is the manager for system planning at the Oregon Mental Health and Addiction Service Office. He was also once the Human Services director for Deschutes County.
He said one of every five people in the room, and in the country, will have a major mental illness in their lives. "These are the people I believe I work for," he said.
Adult Foster Care versus Residential Treatment Homes
Moore said he told Wilson that Curry County would have to use its $35,000 in state funds or lose it.
He told her she could retain that money and get $200,000 more if she turned the home into a residential treatment center.
"Stable housing is the most critical element for the mentally ill returning to the community," he said.
Moore said the state would fund the home so that a "wake" staff could provide 24-hour a day service. He said an adult foster care home would be funded at a lower level, and that there would be hours when the staff was sleeping.
Moore said the home's staff would go through a rigorous criminal check. The lowest level staff member would receive 16 hours of training in the core curriculum, plus eight hours of continuing education a year. Supervising them would be nurse practitioners and the county psychiatrist.
The Hunter Creek Home
Wilson said there was once an adult foster care home in Hunter Creek, but the county had pulled out of the project.
She said the two-story house had presented fire-evacuation problems. Also, the private provider had problems supervising the clients. There wasn't enough money for a wake staff.
Wilson said the home was too far away from the Human Services building and community.
Ann Tlaker, of Human Services, explained what a mental health crisis is, and how the staff would respond.
She said every client in the home would have a crisis plan in place so the staff would know what to look for and how to respond.
"We can act on it before it becomes a problem," she said.
Tlaker said in addition to the wake staff, there will always be a master's degree level clinician available.
She said the Sheriff's Office can pick people up, and case managers can take them to the hospital for assessment and transportation to the Rogue Valley or Bay Area hospitals.
"It's actually pretty smooth," she said of crisis management, "but it does happen."
Effect on Children
John Woodland, a school psychologist in Gold Beach, said, "Children are vulnerable and grow up to be whatever we put into them."
At Riley Creek School, he said, the staff teaches tolerance, citizenship, responsibility, fairness and acceptance.
He said children already go to school with students with disabilities.
"Kids are very accepting of people with differences," he said. "They are quite helpful with one another."
"I'm not worried about the kids," said Woodland. "The kids will be all right."