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Patients hone life, work skills through vocational services

Working in the green house
A staff member works with patients in the hospital’s greenhouse. As part of their therapy, the patients grow and tend to the plants, which they sell at various times throughout the year.

June 15 - Thanks to the Oregon State Hospital's vocational services programs, patient Ben Chase has gone from wallflower to working with confidence with fellow patients. Chase works as a consumer host at the Empowerment Center at OSH. He moves from person to person facilitating activities and games, offering refreshments and making sure no one is left out.

"It was hard for me at first," said Chase, "but now I can jump in and say, 'how's it going,' and I usually have pretty good results."

As part of vocational services, Chase is one of 348 patients in the last year who have gone though work training. Nearly 200 patients are now enrolled after receiving referrals from their treatment teams.

Vocational training has therapeutic value. Patients learn how to manage frustration, accept criticism, work with others, as well as gain competitive work skills.

David Barrick puts the finishing touches on an Adirondack chair. The chairs are built by patients participating in the vocational services program and are available for purchase.
All patients start in production jobs contracted by local companies, performing tasks such as collating and basic assembly. These simple tasks help orient the patients to work and enables staff to assess their capabilities.

If they perform well, patients can apply for hourly-wage positions, which offer ten hours of work each week. When vacancies for these positions are posted, patients must apply and go through the interview and hiring process.

Some of these positions include: janitorial and grounds crew, retail work in a patient-run store, mail delivery, or assisting in the hospital's motor pool, library or woodshop.

Like Chase, each patient enters into the program with specific goals in mind. Chase has not only achieved his goals, but his success at work has translated into success in other aspects of his therapy as well.

Ben Chase (right), talks with fellow patients at OSH's Empowerment Center. Chase works as a host at the cottage through the hospital's vocational services program.

Chase suffers from schizophrenia and what he calls "social phobia."  Medication helps control the voices he hears; however, overcoming social issues was a much more difficult task. His desire to confront these fears motivated him to apply for the consumer host position.

Chase has recently earned additional privileges and is preparing to transition to a minimum-security unit in the coming weeks.

 "I'm not sure he would have made it to this point without his job," said his supervisor, Gary Sjolander. "He's shown staff he can handle responsibility, and he's gained much more self respect and confidence."

Working has also given Chase hope and a plan for his future.

"I want to help other people - maybe at a community drop in center," he said. "With my background and the skills I've learned here, I know I can help other people get to where I am now."