Universal Health Systems renews effort to open psychiatric hospital in Wilsonville
More than two years after regulators scuttled the project, the possibility of NEWCO Oregon opening a large psychiatric hospital in Wilsonville has reemerged.
NEWCO Oregon, which is a subsidiary of Universal Health Systems, submitted another application to the Oregon Health Authority to build a 100-bed hospital in the underdeveloped Coffee Creek Industrial Area, and Wilsonville Mayor Tim Knapp has sent a letter to the OHA expressing the Wilsonville City Council's support for the project.
"UHS' proposed Willamette Valley Behavioral Health Project provides Oregon with much-needed mental-health treatment resources and would be an excellent complement to existing behavioral health treatment facilities," Knapp wrote.
Wilsonville City Council approved NEWCO Oregon's land-use application in 2016 before OHA rejected the psychiatric care provider's certificate of need, which is required to build a mental health facility in Oregon, in 2017.
"The applicant has not met its burden with regard to either identifying the population to be served or the bed-need within the proposed service area. The applicant has proposed a service area that for general acute care beds is too large given the likely market share," the OHA wrote in a letter to NEWCO Oregon in 2017.
Ron Escarda, the UHS group director for the Pacific Northwest region, thinks circumstances are different this time.
He noted that in the 2017 denial, OHA mentioned that the new Unity Center for Behavioral Health in Portland could handle the existing needs. However, the facility has had difficulties since opening in 2017, including reports of three patient deaths, sexual assault and escapes.
"There was a belief that the Unity Center was going to take up additional capacity in the community, and, as a result of that, the Wilsonville facility was not needed," Escarda said. "The events over the last few years have proven that not to be the case."
NEWCO Oregon's 2019 proposal is similar to the iteration that was submitted in 2016 and the psychiatric care provider's Wilsonville land-use application expires March 7, 2020. It includes the same number of beds and about the same square footage as the 2016 application but the project's price tag is $47 million compared to $36 million, which Escarda said is due to spiked construction costs. The application also has a higher number of beds for adult patients and a lower number of beds for adolescent patients than the original application "because we think that's where the shortage is
in the community," Escarda said.
Escarda said Cedar Hills Hospital, which is owned by UHS, has experienced an increase in transfers to its facility from other mental health facilities in the area since the Unity Center opened.
"(That) is one of those indicators that tells me that we don't have enough capacity," he said.
He also mentioned the pervasive problem of homelessness and suicide in the region as further evidence of a need in the community. NEWCO Oregon actually rescinded in March its second certificate of need application and then resent the application. Escarda said they agreed to redo the application during a mediation session with the OHA.
"They gave us feedback on how to improve the application. They said we needed to make a stronger argument," Escarda said.
Escarda said the OHA's methodology of determining need (that by the third year of operation the facility results in a bed-to-population ratio of no more than 0.4 per 1,000 in its service area) indicates that the Wilsonville facility isn't needed and, therefore, NEWCO Oregon needs to establish that there are "special circumstances" that suggest otherwise. The application posits that the current methodology is misleading.
"For acute care inpatient beds, we estimate a current year surplus of about 357 beds. This surplus results from acute care providers maintaining excess inpatient bed capacity, which they have been unwilling or unable to convert into inpatient psychiatric beds," the application reads. "This has resulted in a severe shortage of inpatient psychiatric care in Clackamas, Multnomah and Washington counties and contributed to the declaration that Oregon faces a mental health crisis with high rates of ED (emergency department) boarding and incarceration of mentally ill individuals in jails rather than hospitals."
In the letter dated July 29, 2019, Knapp mentioned the city's history with psychiatric facilities such as the former state-owned Dammasch State Hospital and said Wilsonville's transit services would be convenient to the proposed facility.
One of the City's motivations for supporting the project is the development of the Coffee Creek Industrial Area. The City has thus far struggled to attract business investment in the area and recently took out a $3.5 million loan with Columbia Bank to pay for improvements to Garden Acres Road in order to better prepare Coffee Creek for development and make it more attractive to the private sector.
Wilsonville Economic Development Manager Jordan Vance said the hospital would increase the value of the Coffee Creek Urban Renewal District, which collects the taxes associated with increases in property values and is used to pay off debt and finance infrastructure improvements.
"Investment in UHS develops revenue to help pay for the road, and UHS investment is exactly the type of user we're looking for in Coffee Creek. They have high-quality de-
sign, high employment and family wage positions," Vance said.
From a law enforcement
perspective, Wilsonville Police Chief Rob Wurpes said
such a facility could be beneficial but also could pose challenges.
"If I have to list some of the top problems facing law enforcement, I would put mental health crisis and services to the mentally ill; it's on the top of the list," he said.
Wurpes said officers typically interact with the mentally ill population when they are in a crisis and are required to take 40 hours of crisis intervention training and that the department has full-time behavioral health clinicians.
"Now we're dealing with it at the worst time possible (during a mental crisis), often which at times can be dangerous for emergency medical services and police," he said. "Sometimes folks in crisis become a danger to themselves and to the community."
On the other hand, Wurpes said the Beaverton Police Department has told them that call loads increased after Cedar Hills Hospital was reopened as a psychiatric care facility in 2008.
"One thing we have to monitor is what type of workload it puts on police," Wurpes said. "It does add to work sometimes."
However, he said Wilsonville police sometimes have to drop off those experienc-
ing mental health issues at
the Unity Center in Portland because there isn't such a
facility nearby, which drains time.
Now that the application
has been submitted, all Escarda and other NEWCO Ore-
gon representatives can do is wait.
"I hope that we get a thoughtful review of our application, which we feel like is significantly needed," he said. "We're excited to be a collaborative member of the treatment community and expand our footprint, which (right now) is Cedar Hills. We welcome expanding the community's capacity for caring for patients in psychiatric crisis."
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