HUGO — A remote 16-unit residential treatment facility for people with significant mental illnesses will be closed because there's not enough law enforcement in rural areas of Josephine County, according to the nonprofit organization that operates the hillside center.

Staff at the county-owned facility, Hugo Hills, 900 Hitching Post Road, were given the news last week.

"It's because of the safety situation, not having a full safety system," said Karla McCafferty, executive director for Options of Southern Oregon, which contracts with the county to operate Hugo Hills.

Fifteen clients with significant mental illnesses live there, on a dead-end road near Mount Sexton, and about 25 employees work there. Residents will be placed in other Options facilities or returned to their home counties, and employees might find work at other Options facilities, McCafferty said. There's no timeline for when the facility might close.

Options has contracted with the county to provide a range of mental health services for about 11 years, ever since the county shut down its own mental health department.

McCafferty said staff members were skilled at handling and preventing difficult situations, but that clients coming into the facility had more complex issues and higher needs than in the past.

"The staff up there has been working well for 20 years," she said.

However, there are times when no officers are on duty in rural areas, and sometimes it takes officers an extended time to get there.

"We have to have backup," she said.

The facility would close even if a proposed tax levy to fund Sheriff's Office operations in Josephine County passes in May because passage would not improve the current lack of patrol services, she said. The measure is advertised as a jail operations levy.

The Options board of directors has been discussing the lack of law enforcement services for years.

"We're heartbroken about this decision," McCafferty said. "The safety of our residents and our staff has to be our first priority."