Not all that's going on in our state is bad news. This story comes to you courtesy of the East Oregonian newspaper/website. When you hear over and over about the unmet needs of people with serious challenges, it can really bum you out. I know that personally it gets to me sometimes...
Journey into the mind
Recovery center has unique mission
Many of the residents of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center come to the hospital caught inside a dark, confusing place - a place that exists inside their own minds.
A simulator invented by a drug company called Janssen Pharmaceutic helps mentally healthy people experience delusions common to schizophrenics, a disorder suffered by many BMRC clients. Using goggles and headphones, you journey into the mind of a schizophrenic who takes a ride on a city bus or going to the grocery store.
It's a frightening journey.
People stare at you from every aisle of a grocery store, a man in a television commercial yells at you, the label on a pill bottle turns into a skull and crossbones. You hear voices in front, behind and inside your head.
Sometimes these delusions lead people to do strange things in real life. One woman, for instance, ended up in police custody after she went into a stranger's house and started hauling the furnishings outside for a yard sale.
Most clients come to BMRC, the smallest hospital in the Oregon State Hospital system, from county mental health facilities around the state. Others come directly from emergency rooms, some handcuffed in the back of police cars.
Most have been civilly committed by the state for up to 180 days.
The recovery center, a palatial, two-story building, sits amid a huge expanse of lawn that is shaded in the summer by large trees thick with squirrels. The structure, though impressively large, is dwarfed by its razor wire-surrounded next-door neighbor - the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution.
The Blue Mountain Recovery Center is invisible to many Pendletonians who have driven past numerous times, but never noticed its existence or maybe thought it was part of the prison.
The facility looms large for the 60 residents of the center, however.
Director Kerry Kelly said newly arriving residents are awash in an overload of mental stimuli.
"This is a very confusing place to come to initially," said Kelly.
Imagine trying to soak in a new environment and lifestyle while battling voices or waging other internal struggles, Kelly said. Some are paranoid, refusing to eat or drink, thinking BMRC staff wants to do them in.
It takes a while, in some cases, to build trust. Then, staff and patient work together for recovery.
"We agree with them completely that they don't belong here," she said. "The goal is to get them stable and back into the community."
Each client is different, Kelly said, but with a mixture of psychotherapy and drug treatments, most are able to get back on stable footing. One big challenge is convincing some clients they need certain drugs - such as a bipolar person who is in a manic state.
"Without medication, you feel like superwoman," Kelly said. "Why would you want to take medication?"
The drugs cause some unpleasant side effects, such as jitteriness, Kelly said.
Blue Mountain's parent hospital, the Oregon State Hospital, recently made the news after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation revealed numerous civil rights violations including life-threatening use of restraints, infection control issues, violence between residents and other concerns. The investigation took place in 2006 and was released last month.
Kelly said BMRC is not a miniature state hospital with all the same problems, though she admitted it faces some of the same challenges.
"We're working within a very narrow budget and our units are crowded," she said.
Clients sleep four to a room.
"At any given time, there's six to eight people waiting for that bed," Kelly said.
But the similarities end there. Pendleton's hospital isn't crumbling and the clients' conditions aren't as severe. The state hospital treats medical and forensic patients, while BMRC mostly has clients who have been civilly committed.
Fewer patients mean staff can respond quicker.
"We can take care of issues right away if they come up," she said.
Kelly wanted people to know the state hospital started working to improve immediately after its horrible review in 2006.
"Amazing work has already been done," she said.
The Pendleton hospital is smaller than its Salem counterpart. It only has two wards, one coed and the other male.
On Thursday, in the all-men's ward, a 20-something man stood in the hallway shaving as he stared into a full-length mirror on the wall, painted a soft green. A handful of other clients ambled around, some wearing headphones and others conversing.
Two staff members sat with one man who had earlier indicated he wanted to die. Suicidal clients always have two staff members with them at all times, Kelly said.
Thoughts of suicide plague some clients, she said, and staff takes the possibility seriously.
The hospital has two seclusion rooms for clients who are a danger to themselves or others. They are plain with only a mattress and four bare walls. The patient usually is free to move around and a staff member is present, Kelly said.
In contrast to earlier years, Kelly said, the rooms only are a last resort.
"Seclusion isn't a treatment modality," she said. "It's a failure of treatment - something wasn't working right."
The center sometimes goes for months without a client put in seclusion and that's how Kelly likes it.
"We will do anything, including standing on our heads, to avoid using these rooms," she said.
The center's patients eventually ease back into the community, after treatment.
"It's a process," Kelly said. "It happens over days, weeks and months."