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Patients banned from Y

Citing worries over public safety, Ashland Family YMCA — officials have banned a dozen seriously mentally ill people, including — six criminals, from using the fitness center.

Caretakers for the clients claim the move is unwarranted — discrimination.

For three weeks, residents of Ashland's Hazel Center, — formerly known as the Jackson House, have not been allowed to use their — purchased memberships, YMCA Board President Laurie Gibbs confirmed Tuesday.

The ban was imposed while the YMCA investigated the residents — of the lock-down center opened in June by Jackson County. The issue was — raised by a neighbor who lives near the center at 330 Maple St. and recognized — a client at the Y.

No specific incident sparked the concern, officials said, — but YMCA leaders said they wanted to be cautious.

"We don't exclude people with mental disabilities at all," — Gibbs said. "The main concern is that there are so many kids that are — under our protection, we wanted to be very careful."

Clients of the Hazel Center include six people convicted — of felonies ranging from assault and kidnapping to sex abuse, sodomy and — attempted murder, as well as six civilly committed individuals. The criminal — clients have been granted conditional release from the state mental hospital — by the Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board.

But directors of the Hazel Center said two clients who — have committed sex crimes are prohibited by law from being in a place — where children are present and are not allowed to go to the YMCA. They — exercise instead at the adult pool at Jackson Hot Springs, said Andrew — Axer, clinical director.

The remaining clients, criminals and non-criminals alike, — have been allowed to attend the YMCA accompanied by staff members. Revoking — their memberships without cause is unfair, said Hank Collins, county health — director.

"It angered me," he said. "It's yet another example of — these people being discriminated against because of their mental illness."

Becky Martin, the county's mental health director, said — PSRB clients living in Medford have used the Rogue Valley Family YMCA — for years.

The Ashland YMCA does not screen its entire membership — for criminal backgrounds, Gibbs acknowledged. She added that no sex offender — would be allowed to use the facilities.

She said the YMCA imposed the ban until the agency could — gather more information about the clients and decide what to do next.

Meanwhile, one of the Hazel Center clients contacted Kathy — Wilde, a lawyer for the Oregon Advocacy Center, which often represents — mentally ill people enrolled in state programs.

Wilde said she's discussed the situation with lawyers — from the YMCA.

"We're hopeful we can get it resolved between now and — the end of the week," Wilde said. "My goal is to try and get folks back — into the YMCA as soon as possible."