State hospital says it needs 1,000 new workers

SALEM — The Legislature has already agreed to spend $458.1 million to replace the dilapidated 125-year-old state mental hospital in Salem and build a second hospital in Junction City.

But members of the Legislature's Joint Ways and Means committee learned Thursday that the spending won't end there. The Department of Human Services told the budget writers that it will request $124 million next year to hire nearly 1,000 new employees at the Salem hospital.

Legislators used words such as sobering and astonishing to express their feelings of sticker shock.

"The costs of this are staggering," said Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton.

The state will use bonds to finance construction of the two hospitals. But the money for additional nurses, therapists and support staff would have to come from the state's general tax fund. That means there would be less for schools, health care, prisons and other needs when the Legislature convenes in January.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said the Legislature must properly staff the Oregon State Hospital, but said $124 million might not be doable in the current economic climate.

"We may be looking at two bienniums (2009-11 and 2011-13) to get to that figure," he said. "I'd rather say it that way then to over-promise and under-deliver."

State hospital superintendent Roy Orr said an infusion of workers is necessary to provide patients with proper treatment, reduce overtime work by current hospital employees and provide ample workers at the planned $250 million psychiatric facility in Salem.

Construction of the 620-bed hospital is scheduled to start next spring and be completed in 2011.

In January, sweeping defects in patient care and conditions at Oregon's main mental hospital were documented in a U.S. Justice Department report.

Lawmakers reacted by agreeing to add 211 employees. When those positions are completely filled, state hospital complexes in Salem and Portland will employ about 1,500 workers.

The new $124 million funding request would boost hospital staffing levels by 67 percent, according to a Legislative Fiscal Office report.

Analyst John Britton wrote that it's no surprise the hospital needs more workers: "We are, however, astonished at the magnitude of the proposed staffing increase."

No cost estimates have been released for staffing the 360-bed Junction City facility. It's scheduled to open in 2013.

Share This Story