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State psychiatric hospital nears completion

JUNCTION CITY — A 174-bed state psychiatric hospital, first planned for Junction City nearly a decade ago, is just weeks from completion.

Construction on the 222,000-square-foot hospital should wrap up by the end of this month, Oregon Health Authority spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King said.

Work is finished on the building exterior at the 240-acre site off Milliron Road and just east of Highway 99, about three miles south of downtown Junction City. Crews moved furniture into the building last week. Electricians were on site installing wiring in the hospital’s walls and ceilings.

The $84 million project has been ongoing since late last year. State lawmakers approved the first round of funding for the hospital in 2007, part of an effort to shift psychiatric patients from Southern and Central Oregon out of the state’s sole psychiatric hospital in Salem.

But when, or if, the new hospital reaches its full capacity isn’t certain. The state will start shifting patients from its Salem psychiatric hospital to Junction City in March.

“The three units we’ll open first each have a capacity of 25 (beds),” Gipson-King wrote in an email. That would put 75 patients in the Junction City hospital by late spring or early summer. She said the rest of the beds would be filled over time based on need.

Junction City officials have delighted over the hundreds of permanent jobs the hospital is bringing. More than 180 positions are already filled, but Gipson-King said 150 more are needed by March.

“We still need a little of everything — nursing, clinicians, food services, security, office support, custodians, grounds and maintenance and more,” she said. State hospital officials will be in Junction City on Friday to meet with applicants who have applied for jobs online.

The hospital could eventually employ more than 400 people.

At this point, Gipson-King said it’s uncertain how many of the employees are from Junction City or Lane County, versus other parts of the state.

Safety risk concerns

The project hasn’t unfolded completely free of controversy. Some community members have worried the hospital would house potentially violent felons, who would be in prison if not for insanity pleas.

Gipson-King said the Junction City hospital will house some criminals, as well as people found by a court to be a danger to themselves or others.

“Depending on the nature of their crime, these patients are under the jurisdiction of either the Psychiatric Security Review Board or the Oregon State Hospital Review Program,” she said. The patients will come from Lane, Douglas, Jackson, Coos, Curry, Klamath and other Southern Oregon counties.

Many city officials have said in the past that the public safety risk is extremely minimal, with the state taking measures to ensure the site is secure.

Patients would be subject to various levels of freedom inside the facility based on their condition. Checkpoints separate different parts of the hospital, and can only be accessed with a key card.

Patients could also earn privileges, such as access to a computer, passes to move throughout the facility under supervision, and in some cases to go off the hospital grounds under heavy supervision, Gipson-King said.

Economic impact

Picturing the economic impact of a 400-employee operation in a city of 5,500 doesn’t take much imagination, said Mike Cahill, Junction City’s mayor-elect and formerly the town’s police chief.

When talks about bringing the hospital and a state prison to Junction City first emerged in the early 2000s, “the intent all along was to find business opportunities that would help people establish family-wage jobs in the area,” Cahill said.

The prison project is on hold indefinitely. It was set to be co-located with the hospital, but projected inmate populations have declined significantly over the last decade.

Still, Cahill said the hospital could have an economic ripple effect, drawing more middle-class families to the area and lifting prospects for retail, restaurant and other businesses in town.

“Junction City was open to the idea of sponsoring such a facility,” Cahill said of the psychiatric hospital. “We felt as a community that we had something to offer as far as a regional area” for the state to build in.

Bob Aldridge, left, and Chris Nielsen of Convergint Technologies work on wiring in the ceiling of the new Oregon State Hospital between Junction City and Eugene on Dec. 1. The Register-Guard / Brian Davies