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.
The company seeking to build the hospital, United Health Services, already operates a private psychiatric hospital in Cedar Hills. The company's bid to open a second Oregon hospital drew strong support from the city of Wilsonville and several lawmakers. But Legacy Health and its partners in the new Unity Center for Behavioral Health, which was then preparing to open, and Service Employees International Union opposed the project, and the Oregon Health Authority in 2017 declined to grant United Health Services' application for the certificate of need that is a prerequisite for opening a new hospital.
United Health Services restarted the application process for Wilsonville earlier this year.
A spokeswoman for Brown responded cautiously to the letter seeking expedited approval.
"Gov. Brown believes strongly that every person in Oregon grappling with a serious mental illness deserves access to the services they need, when they need them," spokeswoman Liz Merah said in an email.
"But my understanding from conversations with OHA is that Universal Health Services has not completed their application. OHA also needs additional information from them about how this facility—if built—would enable us to better respond to the immediate COVID-19 pandemic. 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."