Cut off the nose to spite the face

Enviros target dairy industry

In another century, the mentally ill were warehoused forever, out of sight of the rest of the world.

The tragic lives of these victims most often are familiar to us because of a variety of movies that portrayed abusive conditions, stark facilities and minimal levels of care.

Unfortunately, this is one instance in which there is a sobering level of correlation between on-screen fiction and reality.

Just this spring, the Oregon State Hospital, which served as a backdrop for Ken Kesey's novel and the subsequent movie, "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest," was cited for multiple violations and long has been a source of concern for its decrepit condition.

More recently, state officials have sought to build a series of satellite facilities that would help provide better living conditions and enable some of Oregon's mentally ill to begin weaving themselves back into the communities from which they came.

Unfortunately, part of the siting plan is finding cities willing to host such a facility.

Based upon the experience of the Morrow-Wheeler Behavorial Health Board to site facilities in Fossil and Boardman, Oregon's mentally ill might well find themselves living out their lives in a human warehouse somewhere else.

At least that's the sentiment that caused director Kimberly Lindsay ultimately to give up on efforts to provide for such a facility in her area.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring income and a $1.2 million building project have been thwarted and Morrow-Wheeler Behavorial Health has shelved its plans to build an eight-bed facility.

Much of the firestorm surrounding the proposed project was based upon misinformation, including the fact that the men who would have been housed there are criminal sex offenders.

In truth, the men who would be treated are in recovery from mental illness and are receiving appropriate treatment and medication, she said. They have been civilly committed, which means they were deemed a danger to themselves or others at some time because of mental illness, but they are not institutionalized because they committed a crime.

Furthermore, she said, the men who would have been chosen for the site have no history of recidivism and no history of trying to escape.

"Many of the patients have been on the list for a secure residential facility for years, but there is no place to go," she said.

As alarming as turning our backs on these fellow humans is the fact that the center would have brought $65,000 a month to either Fossil or Boardman in payroll alone. The center also would have bought its prescriptions in town, which would have come to about $500 a month, and its groceries, which would have come to about $3,000 to $4,000 a month. Construction of the building would have brought $1.2 million to area contractors.

Ken Palke, Oregon Department of Human Services communications officer, said, "We cannot warehouse people in the state hospital - this isn't the 19th century."

The chairman of the MWBH board of directors and Wheeler County district attorney Tom Cutsforth said when the organization attempted to build the center near Fossil, nearby residents threatened to burn the building down. One resident said he would shoot the patients if he happened to see them on the street, Cutsforth said.

Cutsforth added he supported the project because it would have brought much-needed money and jobs to the county.

"The county that needs the most economic help is Wheeler," he said. Wheeler County ranks 32nd in per capita income among Oregon's 36 counties while Fossil ranks 161st among 308 communities. Morrow County ranks 33rd and Boardman ranks 282nd among 308.

Cutsforth and Wheeler County Sheriff Dave Rouse both were appointed to the board of MWBH because of their positions with the county.

Rouse, Cutsforth said, resigned because of the public's violent response to the project. Cutsforth is facing recall.

Lindsay, of Morrow County, said the organization has no plans to re-site the project.

Fifteen or 20 new jobs in either community would have made a positive difference, not to mention the value of caring for the less fortunate among us.

In both cases, it is a tragic loss.

Unsigned editorials reflect the opinions of Editor Dean Brickey and General Manager Jeanne Hoffman. Other columns, letters and cartoons on this page express the opinions of the authors and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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