Psychiatric hospital project faces battle

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Preliminary construction work could begin this spring on a long-awaited state psychiatric hospital south of Junction City — if state lawmakers back funding.

For work to commence this year, the Oregon Legislature must approve a $29 million allocation of general fund-backed bonds for the hospital. A small portion of the funding would go to the nearly completed Salem psychiatric hospital.

The Eugene Register-Guard (http://bit.ly/xOmFsS ) says the allocation would keep the Junction City project moving through next summer and take a big bite out of its total remaining construction costs of $84 million.

The timing, however, is difficult given state government's dire financial problems.

A state commission has recommended that the governor and the Legislature not authorize any “net increase in general fund-backed debt” until the end of the 2011-13 biennium.

Gov. John Kitzhaber endorsed the hospital in September. But the state's overstretched debt capacity could swell the Legislature's ranks of long-standing bipartisan opponents of the project during its four-week session in February, possibly leading to another construction delay — or a more permanent derailing.

“People will be watching what happens,” said Junction City administrator Kevin Watson.

The hospital is projected ultimately to bring hundreds of permanent jobs to Lane County.

In late December, Rep. Dennis Richardson, a Central Point Republican, slammed the Junction City hospital project in his monthly newsletter.

Richardson said that focusing on community-based care rather than institutional mental health care immediately is cheaper for the state and more humane for patients, arguments also made by mental health advocacy groups and other project opponents.

Rep. Val Hoyle, a Eugene Democrat whose district includes Junction City, said the Junction City project is intended to serve a population that needs 24-hour supervision and that contains patients who have pleaded guilty except for insanity to crimes.

“Some people require hospital-level care,” she said. “And when we close the psychiatric hospitals in Portland and Pendleton, Oregon won't have enough of those beds.”

The Portland and Pendleton facilities, which require significant renovations to meet federal standards, are scheduled to be closed by 2015.

Linda Hammond, director of Oregon's addictions and mental health treatment programs, is implementing a construction plan that calls for the hospital to open in early 2015 to coincide with the expected closures.

Under the plan, the 257-acre Junction City site would be prepared for construction starting this spring, Hammond said. That work would include construction of roadways and utility infrastructure. It also would include laying down foundations of some future buildings.

Most of the actual building construction is set to occur during the summers of 2013 and 2014, Hammond said.

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

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