By BILL LUNDUQIST
GOLD BEACH A residential treatment home for the mentally ill will be placed in the Rogue Hills subdivision after all, but on a trial basis with several conditions.
Commissioner Rachelle Schaaf said Monday she would vote to continue the project, and did so Friday.
Commissioner Marlyn Schafer said she supported the idea, but voted against it for financial reasons.
The swing vote was left to Commissioner Lucie La Bont, who worked out a compromise that she said satisfied the majority of Rogue Hills neighbors and Human Services Director Deb Wilson.
La Bont said she didn't believe there were any bad people on either side of the controversy over placing the home in a residential area.
She said mistakes were made in how the project was implemented, and apologies had already been made for that.
"If the folks in the neighborhood or anyone else involved in the project feels that I personally have shown them disrespect," said La Bont, "I apologize."
She said she appreciated the views of everyone who had contacted her.
"I hope that beginning today," she said, "we can put aside our differences and work to solve a very difficult situation that is facing our community, our state and our nation: the provision of housing for our mentally ill."
La Bont said there may be possibilities for the county to eventually purchase a home to be used for the mentally ill.
She said state funds for a treatment home would go away, however, unless one was opened within the next three weeks.
She said some of the people in the neighborhood dropped their opposition to the home when they learned the county had so little time to find an alternative site.
"In the meantime," said La Bont, "what can we do to serve this population of Curry County residents and keep the funding needed to serve them?
"Is is better to have a home for them to transition back into our community, from where they came, or should they be left to their own, without supervision and training and relearning the skills they need so that they can become productive members of our community?"
Partly in answer to Schafer's financial concerns, La Bont said, "I feel that it will cost the county less to have a place for them, and it will help break the cycle of these folks going back and forth into the hospital, which has been very costly to our county government."
"After reviewing the policies and procedures for this home," she said, "I believe that the risk to the neighborhood is no more than any other household in a neighborhood.
"The neighborhood is at a much higher risk if a family in the neighborhood has a history of family violence."
La Bont moved to approve the home on a trial basis with seven stipulations:
A neighborhood committee is formed to meet and give input on the project. At least one member of the committee is appointed to the Human Services Advisory Board as a liaison between the committee and the advisory board.
That after six months, both the advisory board and the neighborhood committee do a complete evaluation of the project to the commissioners.
During that time, the Human Services Department will investigate other possible locations for a long-term facility, contingent on approval by the commissioners.
That the commissioners fully review the credentials of the staff for the facility, that only people with experienced in working with individuals in residential settings be hired and that unemployment be covered in the Human Services budget in case the county does not receive state funding for the project in the future.
That the commissioners review and approve any contract with the State of Oregon regarding the facility.
That, as written in the policies and procedures, the following categories of persons are not appropriate for placement in the home, and if at any time the policy is not adhered to, the facility will be shut down:
Persons in need of secure hospital care due to noncompliance or danger to self or others.
Persons who are in need of semiskilled or skilled nursing care.
Persons who are intoxicated or whose current crisis is the direct result of active alcohol or drug abuse addiction shall not be eligible due to the risk of withdrawals.
Persons whose behavior or history may present a legal risk to agency facilities staff, or persons who may be dangerous.
The transition bed will not be used for people in crisis. It will be used for people in need of temporary residential care.
That the commissioners adopt the policies and procedures for the facility before it opens.
That the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is asked to do an on-site inspection of the facility when appropriate.
Schaaf seconded La Bont's motion, for discussion, but disagreed with stipulation No. 2. She said the selection of home staff should be up to Wilson and her clinical staff.
"We have a director we trust to do that," she said.
"We hire and fire county employees, not our directors," said La Bont. She said Wilson had no problem with the provision.
Schaaf asked Wilson what she thought of the conditions.
Wilson said she and her staff would still screen and pick applicants, but that the commissioners could do their own screening before a job was offered to an applicant.
She said the liaison commissioner could also work with the staff on interview questions.
Wilson said she had no problem with the other stipulations. "They serve the needs of the citizens," she said.
Schafer said she voted against the project for fiscal reasons. She said she knew from Internet messages between the commissioners that she would cast the dissenting vote, so she prepared a statement to explain her position.
"I don't believe that this project is well thought out or well funded," said Schafer. "The decision to change the type of facility was made very rapidly. The budget that was prepared has some serious flaws in my opinion."
Schafer raised concerns about the home's budget for food and electricity.
"Maybe other line items in the materials and services budget will be able to backfill these line items," she said, "but I think the whole project is very tight."
Schafer said the county would never be able to fund the home, and she feared the state would eventually cut funding for it, as has happened with other projects.
Schafer tried to look on the bright side about her whole experience with the project.
"I believe we have all learned how important it is to not just do a project that will have an impact on people's lives without first taking the time to inform people," she said.
"I believe also that the commissioners should set a policy for department heads that we will not, as county commissioners, do any new programs without first having a workshop about it and making sure we all understand the need, and that the majority agrees to go forward."
"I think this is a much needed program," said Schafer, "and my heart goes out to not only the prospective clients, but the staff at Human Services that know what the need is, but I cannot change the way I feel about making wise decisions for the future of county government."
Schafer voted against the project, but said she would never try to undermine it.
"I will do anything I can to help the program succeed," she said.
Schaaf said she understood Schafer's fiscal concerns and shared some of them. She said, however, that Human Services had been able to make a financial success of the Hammond House.
Schafer said that was different, because the clients there pay rent.
La Bont said later that she also understood Schafer's financial concerns, but believed Wilson knew how to handle the budget.
La Bont did not believe the state would cut funding for such homes.