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DHS news release

Dec. 26, 2006

Contact: Jim Sellers 503-945-5738
Program contact: Madeline Olson 503-945-9727

Four workgroups taking long view of Oregon's statewide mental health services

A group of nursing professionals is advising the Oregon Department of Human Services on how to encourage more nursing students to prepare for psychiatric-nursing jobs at Oregon State Hospital, which is chronically short of nurses.

The workgroup is one of four that Bob Nikkel, DHS assistant director for addictions and mental health services, has named to help the state plan for a new state hospital and a strengthened community mental health system.

The other three groups are working on community services, services in Central and Eastern Oregon and acute psychiatric care in local hospitals.

"This is the first time in Oregon's history that we've taken a comprehensive look at mental health services, staffing and costs over the next 15 years," Nikkel said. "This will improve state leaders' ability to predict costs and deliver greater certainty to patients and families that adequate resources will be available when they need them."

Prompting naming of the nurses' workgroup is that more than 20 percent of the state hospital's 165 nursing positions are usually vacant, Nikkel said, in part because fewer than 5 percent of nursing students choose psychiatric nursing as a career. The workgroup, comprising a dozen nursing professionals and DHS staff, is investigating ways to encourage more students to consider careers at the state hospital, which will need more nurses when new replacement hospitals open beginning in 2011.

The Governor, meanwhile, is recommending increasing capacity in Oregon nursing education in his 2007-09 Hope and Opportunity Budget.

The state hospital, where nurses' average age is 50, attracted 98 people to a Dec. 5 Salem job fair, at which three participants completed applications after receiving a hospital tour, viewing rarely seen hospital memorabilia and hearing from hospital officials.

Other work groups:

  • Community services: This group is analyzing early-assessment, community treatment, affordable housing and other services designed to assist people in their communities so they don't need state hospital treatment. Members include legislative, county, advocacy, DHS and other representatives.
  • Central and Eastern Oregon: This group is looking at services needed in rural parts of the state, including fast-growing Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties, which have the state's least developed community resources supporting the state hospital. Members include legislative, consumer, community mental health, hospital, advocacy and DHS representatives.
  • Acute-care policy: This group is investigating care, finances, policies and other issues affecting local hospitals with psychiatric wards. Members include hospital, community mental health, treatment, consumer and DHS representatives.

Nikkel said he wants the community services workgroup to report during the session of the 2007 Oregon Legislature, which is expected to make decisions that would begin construction by 2009 on the first of two replacement state hospitals.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski and legislators are considering a 620-bed state hospital in the Portland-Salem area, a 360-bed hospital south of Linn County, and at least two 16-bed facilities east of the Cascades.