- Associated Press - Friday, December 2, 2016

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Eugene-area residents are uneasy following Gov. Kate Brown’s proposal to permanently close a new, $130 million psychiatric hospital there.

On Thursday, Brown suggested closing the 18-month-old Junction City hospital to help fix a large health care budget hole, reported The Register-Guard (https://bit.ly/2h2MEDZ). The proposal calls for permanently closing the facility in mid-2018, saving the state an estimated $34.5 million a year.

The hospital’s 422 jobs have provided an economic boost to the region since it opened in mid-2015 after years of funding negotiations. Its closure would require approval by state legislators and most of the proposed savings would come from wages and benefits.

“I shudder to think of the impact from an employee standpoint,” said Junction City Administrator Jason Knope on Thursday. “This caught us completely off guard today. I did not have any inkling that this was coming down the pipe.”

He said closing the hospital would also mean a loss of utility revenue for the city.

Danna Coleman of Springfield has worked at the hospital as a mental health technician for eight months. She said she’s not worried about finding another job if the facility closes, but she’s concerned about her clients.

“I have no clue what will happen to them,” she said. “Psych beds are tight everywhere.”

The hospital serves too many people to simply displace, so another facility would be required, according to Coleman.

Brown said she favors “deinstitutionalization” of mental health care, which played into her suggestion of closing the hospital. She said she’d like to see most patients transferred to smaller community-based mental health facilities, although Oregon has chronically struggled to fund such institutions.

“It was a very difficult decision for me to make,” Brown said. “It’s really important that the people struggling with mental health issues get the services they need.”

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Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com

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