Murmurs: Advocates Plead for Psychiatric Hospital

In other news: Portland isn't closing streets to cars.

ADVOCATES PLEAD FOR PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL: Proponents of bolstering Oregon's woeful mental health system, which regularly ranks among the nation's worst, appealed to Gov. Kate Brown on April 14, noting the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the shortage of treatment options. "Emergency departments are closing to all but the most serious cases, which has left Oregonians in mental health crisis without anywhere to receive safe treatment," said the letter, signed by numerous advocacy groups, including Oregon Recovers and the Portland Business Alliance. It asks Brown to greenlight construction of a long-proposed 100-bed psychiatric hospital in Wilsonville that state officials have blocked. "Gov. Brown believes strongly that every person in Oregon grappling with a serious mental illness deserves access to the services they need," says Brown's spokeswoman, Liz Merah. "Our office is reviewing the letter, but currently waiving the certificate of need requirement for this facility to begin construction is not a recommendation we have received from our public health experts."

PORTLAND ISN'T CLOSING STREETS TO CARS: Last week, Oakland's mayor banned cars from 74 miles of city streets in order to give residents more room to walk and bike while staying 6 feet apart during the COVID-19 pandemic. Portland transportation officials won't be following suit anytime soon. "If we close streets, we risk creating destinations where people would gather," Portland Bureau of Transportation spokesman John Brady tells WW. "This is exactly what we must avoid." To some Portland bicycle and pedestrian advocates, street closures are an elegant solution to the city's jammed parks. Transportation Commissioner Chloe Eudaly isn't yet on board. "I am open to creative, thoughtful uses of our right of way, and I plan to champion many more car-free streets in the future," she tells WW, "but right now, safety, the safety of vulnerable Portlanders and essential services need to come first."

STATE OVERRULES PROMINENT LANDLORD: The Oregon Health Authority stepped in April 6 to settle a dispute between landlord Katherine Durant and American Family Urgent Care, which wanted to erect a temporary patient screening facility outside its clinic in the Uptown Shopping Center in Northwest Portland. Durant, who is married to former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, denied earlier requests from the clinic, citing inadequate space in the parking lot. But OHA ordered her to allow the structure so the clinic could separate patients with COVID-19 symptoms from other patients. Durant did not respond to a request for comment.

BROWN FUNDS FOOD PANTRIES: Gov. Kate Brown on April 13 announced $8 million in funding relief over the next eight weeks for the Oregon Food Bank. "In times of crisis, no Oregonian should need to wonder where they can find food for their family," said Brown. Last week, WW reported on the growing demands on the state's food pantries and soup kitchens ("Hunger Pains," April 8, 2020). The food bank told WW it could run out of supplies to meet demand as soon as next week.

CITY WORKERS CONFRONT TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES: As most city of Portland employees try to work remotely, many are encountering unanticipated hurdles: lack of bandwidth, and software programs that require their home computers to have a security device called an RSA token in order to access city networks. The tokens have been a particular problem for the Bureau of Development Services, which is responsible for reviewing plans and inspecting construction projects. "The city, like other employers, is experiencing unprecedented demand for telework," says Dylan Rivera, a city spokesman. "Vendors that supply key technology like tokens are struggling to keep up."