Construction has begun on a center that will consolidate in one location Jackson County's 300 health and human services employees who are now spread across nine buildings.
County and city of Medford officials hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Friday morning for the department's $28 million, 80,000-square-foot center at the site of the former Medford post office, immediately east of Medford City Hall.
The postal building is gone, soon to be replaced by the two-story building that will house such HHS departments as public health, mental health and developmental disability services. On the south side of that building will be a six-story parking structure with room for 400 vehicles.
Building officials said they hope construction will be done by the winter of 2014.
Just under $10 million of the $28 million cost comes from the county's general fund, which county officials say will be repaid in 10 years through leasing space to the state. Once the building is paid off, it will generate revenues for the general fund.
"We're going to get it built right; we're going to get it paid off right," Don Skundrick, Jackson County's Board of Commissioners chairman, said at the ceremony.
Skundrick added that the new center was needed, as consolidating all departments into one building will create better efficiency among employees and will better accommodate patients. Additionally, the federal Affordable Care Act is expected to boost the 700 or so average daily clients seen by the county to at least 1,000, necessitating more space and services, he said.
"That's going to not quite double the folks that are going to be under the Oregon (Health) Plan," Skundrick said. "The pool is going to grow bigger."
Mark Orndoff, Jackson County HHS executive director, said the building also will boast some new services.
He said clients will be met by a "Walmart-like" greeter when they come in, and immediately be directed to the appropriate agency. A short-term walk-in crisis center also is planned, to be open 24 hours a day for people in the midst of an emotional episode who need a place to calm down. The extra service, he said, actually will save money.
"Right now, many people are using the ER as their crisis center," Orndoff said, which carries considerable costs.
He said the center will be modeled using a "living room concept."
"It basically gives folks who are in a level of crisis a place to come and chill out," Orndoff said.
A stimuli room for children with autism, a child care drop-off area and lending library also are planned. Orndoff hopes the library will have not only books and videos, but donated medical supplies such as crutches and wheelchairs.
While county officials have emphasized that the state will ultimately pay the bill, the new building has drawn some flak, with critics calling it too expensive in a time of budget cutting. Orndoff, however, said the $10 million would have lasted for about two years if it were used to pay for services rather than the building, while the building will produce revenue for decades to come.
"We need to look out for not one budget cycle, but for the generations after us," Orndoff said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at email@example.com.