The hundreds of clients who will be helped each day at a new building in downtown Medford are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, friends and neighbors, said Jackson County Health & Human Services Director Mark Orndoff.
They all deserve to be treated with respect and to get the help they need in an efficient, coordinated way, he said.
"We are all truly one paycheck away from being on the other side of that phone or desk," Orndoff said.
A crowd gathered on Thursday to celebrate the completion of the new Jackson County Health & Human Services Building at 140 S. Holly St.
The building and an adjacent eight-story parking garage together cost nearly $36 million. County health and social services workers who are scattered in nine area buildings will move into the 98,000 square foot, two-story building Jan. 12-27.
More than 750 clients each day are expected to use the building, county officials said.
County workers and nonprofit organizations sharing the building will provide physical and mental health care, immediate crisis help for the mentally ill, food and nutrition assistance, help for physically disabled and developmentally disabled people and their families, immunizations, HIV prevention and support, family planning, pregnancy care, well-baby checkups and more.
Orndoff said the human toll and economic cost of not getting people the help they need early on is substantial. His own brother, who died three years ago, battled schizophrenia and addiction.
The building was designed using input from clients. Among other features, a push of a button will open restrooms, allowing people in wheelchairs to get inside without wrestling heavy doors.
"We wanted this to be their building and to create an environment where they feel comfortable," said Service Integration Manager Stephanie Mendenhall.
Clients with kids can drop them off in a childcare center and then go to their own appointments in privacy, said David Wilkerson of Medford-based ORW Architecture, which designed the building.
"That removes a huge impediment to getting care," he said.
Wilkerson said in his entire career he's never worked with clients so committed to helping people in need.
During the design and construction process, Jackson County was dealing with a constantly evolving health care landscape. The roll-out of the federal 2010 Affordable Care Act caused the number of county residents on the Oregon Health Plan to jump. More than one-third of county residents now have OHP coverage, county officials said.
Jackson County has contracts to provide mental health care for those residents. Its mental health caseload skyrocketed from 2,000 to 6,000 people, County Administrator Danny Jordan said.
"The people I see need lots of services," said Jackson County Psychiatric Nurse Patty Andries.
With the La Clinica health care organization sharing space in the building, Andries said she will be able to send mentally ill people to La Clinica for physical health care. They can also get everything from immunizations to family planning services to Women, Infants and Children food assistance in one location.
Andries said it can be difficult for the mentally ill to travel to scattered sites for help. Getting aid in one setting will reduce their anxiety, she said.
Andries said the right treatment can help mentally ill people. Once they are stabilized and have support, they can take advantage of educational and employment opportunities. Even working a part-time job can improve a person's mental health and outlook, she said.
Providing mental health care can be challenging, but it's rewarding, Andries said.
"You have to be happy with baby steps. Every day I feel like I've helped," she said. "People are so grateful."
In addition to La Clinica and the county, other organizations sharing the building will include Families for Community, Living Opportunities, HIV Alliance and Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon. More partnerships are expected, county officials said.