By Molly • Molly Walker • 

Hospital opens behavioral health unit

Program Director Steve Lowry said it would provide short-term, in-patient behavioral services for citizens age 65 and over, focusing on patients with cognitive impairment, such as those with Alzheimer’s. He is anticipating a clientele averaging 74 years of age and staying 12 days or less.

The renovation included the latest features for patient safety. Lowry said the treatment schedule will be intensive, featuring nursing, occupational therapy, psychiatric care and social work.

The single-patient rooms will be staffed 24 hours a day, with immediate consultation available for hospitalization issues.

“I’m so excited to get this unit launched,” said Connie Pullen, chief nursing officer for the hospital. Plans for the facility have been in the works for a year, she said.

“We know there’s a need,” Pullen said. She said a number of patients from local areas have left the community for this type of in-patient care.

“As a hospital that tries to meet the needs of our community, this is a natural outcropping,” she said. 

In developing the facility, the hospital partnered with Horizon Health, a leading provider and manager of hospital-based mental health facilities. Its role is to help with policies, procedures, processing and quality control. 

Dr. Robert Buckler of Newberg, who is board-certified in forensic medicine, general psychology and chemical dependency, has been named medical director. He also teachers at the Oregon Health Science University and George Fox University.

Referrals to the program may be made in a number of ways, including a primary care provider or care facility. Once referred, nurses will complete forms and Lowry will review the patient’s case.

Admission criteria will include major depression, suicidal behavior, behavioral agitation, major depression in the course of a dementia illness, complications related to psychiatric medications, psychosis and anxiety issues impacting the ability to function. 

According to the Pew Research Center, the first wave of Baby Boomers turned 65 on Jan. 1, 2011. For the ensuing 19 years, about 10,000 people a day will be turning 65, when Medicare kicks in. 

With the growing Medicare population, Pullen said many struggle with depression. So one of the biggest issues the hospital had to deal with in renovating the space was guarding against suicide.

The facility features special faucets and showerheads with inset hardware and a bathroom door that has been reshaped and cut at an angle so it doesn’t have a corner or flat top.

The main door features an audible alarm and flashing lights. All plumbing is encased and handrails have a solid piece of metal at the bottom.

Rooms look out at the trees and a farm field, and there’s outdoor space for patients to get fresh air. There’s also a treatment room, which is designed much like a living room, and a dining room where patients can eat together.

“The purpose is to have them up and active,” said Pullen.

Lowry said there will be five to six treatment groups each day for the patients. “We’ll be using various therapy groups to draw people out of isolation,” he said. 

Pullen said it’s critical to know where patients are at all times and rooms will be checked every 15 minutes. The goal of the facility is to help patients have a more productive life.

“There’s an ever-growing number of senior citizens in the community,” Pullen said. “It’s such a needed service. So often, seniors go untreated or are put on excessive medication.”

For more information, call 503-435-4557. 

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