Beams of light on man

The Oregon State Hospital has some 758 total licensed beds. Because of the pandemic and other things, its actual capacity is now closer to 671.

And that can be a problem.

The Oregon State Hospital cares for people who basically fall into three categories:

1) People who might be in prison if they were not mentally ill.

2) People who need care to understand legal charges against them.

3) People who are civilly committed. A civil commitment is a process where a judge is convinced through evidence that a person, for instance, has a mental disorder and because of it is a danger to self or others or unable to take care of their basic needs.

By law, the state must accept people at the hospital in the first two categories — people found guilty except for insanity and patients who need treatment to become well enough to aid and assist their own defense.

The state hospital has also had to increase its numbers of “aid and assist” patients to ensure it followed a federal court order. The average daily population of aid and assist patients was about 74 in 2000 and in April 2019, it had hit 260.

That squeezes the hospital’s capacity to serve other sorts of patients. Patients with civil commitments can be left in community hospitals or at other locations that aren’t the best place to be for long-term care.

It’s happening in Deschutes County and in other places around the state. We aren’t talking big numbers of people, locally. There were perhaps five people last year who were civil commitments in Deschutes County who arguably may need the level of care for their mental illness that the state hospital can provide, according to Holly Harris, program manager of Deschutes County Behavioral Health Services. St. Charles does its best. Sage View Psychiatric Center at St. Charles is the only inpatient psychiatric facility east of the Cascades. It is, though, for short-term care.

The answer is not simply: Build more beds at the state hospital. That’s an oversimplification. Just waiting for the pandemic to end isn’t the solution, either.

There were problems before the pandemic.

Oregon’s legislators have heard about these problems before. Will they do something about it during the 2021 Legislature?

We hope so.

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