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DHS news release

This guest opinion appeared in the Salem Statesman Journal on June 22, 2005.


Superb staff drives success at the ever-improving state hospital



By Ted Ficken


In 1990, after accepting a job at Oregon State Hospital, I was talking to a Realtor about housing in Salem. When I mentioned that I would be working at the state hospital, she frowned and said, "Why would anyone want to work there? It has a bad reputation!"


I was surprised by her reaction, but since then, I have heard similar comments from friends, family and others.
Negative perceptions are formed by reading stories about the hospital's aging buildings, overcrowded conditions, understaffing, the storage of cremains and other legitimate concerns. But there is another, positive side to Oregon State Hospital.


There are dedicated staff members from many professions and disciplines who truly care about the patients they serve. People who retire from the hospital often express their respect for their co-workers and their pride in patient success stories. Inspectors who come to the hospital agree that the hospital is overcrowded and understaffed and that our buildings need to be replaced, but they also comment on the excellent work being done by the staff.


Improvements are made every day at the state hospital. Some result from formal projects and others from informal actions by both staff members and patients. As the public learns more about the hospital's good work, it will have even more reason to support our ongoing efforts to improve patient care.


For example, employees in the geriatric program have dramatically reduced patient falls that cause injuries. They have used assessments to identify patients at risk to fall. To prevent falls, they have used special alarms, patient identifiers, and even changed the type of floor wax. Every fall is studied to see what can be improved.


Treatment increasingly is grounded in recovery principles. Patients have input, make choices, learn skills, participate in normalizing activities and prepare for life in the community.


Patients might work, be involved in music or art, raise plants, exercise, learn positive leisure skills, practice their own religion or belief system, or be a part of a cultural diversity presentation. Patients learn to manage their illnesses and do recover. A patient represents his peers on our Quality Improvement Committee.


The hospital has successfully reduced its use of seclusion and restraints to below national rates. Vocational programs have been expanded to provide patients with work skills. Patient complaints and satisfaction surveys are summarized and reviewed and result in positive changes. Right now, there are 36 quality improvement projects under way, involving virtually every patient care unit and clinical discipline at the hospital.


There is optimism at the state hospital. We have begun to see recognition from the Legislature, governor and community that we need more resources to do a better job. For that, we are grateful.


The public needs to know that we are doing a good job, but we need to see long-term, ongoing support for the hospital, and the entire mental-health system in Oregon. As the system improves, we all benefit -- especially the patients.


Ted Ficken, Ph.D., of Salem is the director of quality improvement at Oregon State Hospital. He can be reached at ted.ficken@state.or.us.