The Unity Center for Behavioral Health, Portland's relatively new emergency center for psychiatric patients, is turning away patients.
"We're on divert," said Lisa Hooke, the supervising nurse on duty Monday. The center told other hospitals and emergency ambulance services to taken patients elsewhere.
The decision to divert ambulances away from the center was made this weekend, said Brian Terrett, spokesman for Legacy Health. The hospital system, one of Unity's founders, employs all non-physician staff at the center. He said the center decided to limit admissions because it is enacting some "nursing procedures" that were recommended by the Oregon Health Authority. He declined to elaborate about them, citing an ongoing investigation.
Oregon Health Authority staff were at the center on Monday doing a "check-in," Terrett said. The visit is part of an investigation that was sparked by a complaint filed with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, he said. That same complaint led to an investigation by the workplace safety division in the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. The agency fined Unity $1,650 for not properly documenting assaults and other issues. There were about 300 assaults and two dozen employee injuries at the center during its first seven months after opening in January 2017.
Terrett said the center would open its doors to everyone soon, perhaps as early as Monday night or Tuesday morning. In the meantime, walk-ins were welcomed.
"Anybody who walks up will be able to be seen," Terrett said.
The center, modeled after an emergency mental hospital in Alameda, California, has an emergency psychiatric unit for up to 50 patients. Instead, of putting patients in a room, they're all taken to a big space with 50 recliners. Patients relax in the recliners while caregivers attend to their needs, Terrett said. The idea is not to traumatize them even more by locking them in a room, he said. He said staff members try to stabilize them and then connect them with a provider in the community so that they can be discharged.
On Monday, there were about 20 patients in the emergency department, Terrett said.
Some advocates worry about Unity's living-room model, pointing to the assaults as an example of the risks.
"There was a hanging a few weeks ago," said Jason Renaud, a board member of the Mental Health Association of Portland, an advocacy group for mental health patients.
Terrett declined to comment, citing federal privacy laws.
Patients have complained about being drugged without their permission. One patient, who declined to be named, told The Lund Report that Unity was the worst mental health institution that she'd ever been in during a lifetime of coping with childhood trauma.