Consultant suggests improvements to state crisis unit

About 100 people live in these facilities

Oregon Department of Human Services, file. (KOIN)
Oregon Department of Human Services, file. (KOIN)

SALEM, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Feedback from a consultant hired to assess safety within the state’s residential crisis services for people with developmental disabilities is “not glowing,” according to the director of the state’s Stabilization and Crisis Unit.

SACU operates 23 homes along the I-5 corridor between Portland and Eugene, according to the Department of Human Services. About 100 people live in these facilities, which are intended to help people with severe needs.

SACU Director Jana McLellan, in a presentation Monday to the Client Staff and Safety Task Force, said the consultant has tentatively recommended the unit improve staff training and take a more individualized approach to residents.

The task force was established in 2015 and directed by the Legislature to evaluate safety and make recommendations on staff safety, resident care and the operation of SACU facilities.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 Media partner.

Although the task force was required to provide its recommendations to the Legislature by Sept. 15, it determined then that none were “ready for submission.”

A consultant, Benchmark Human Services, Inc., was brought on this spring to investigate safety and health issues of people both working for and getting services from SACU.

McLellan said Monday she expects Benchmark’s report to be complete next month. The consultancy has reviewed information provided by SACU and has conducted interviews with more than 30 staff, management and other stakeholders in the system.

McLellan said the consultant’s report will focus on several best practice areas, include staff training, medication management, access to psychiatric services, residential capacity and using data to inform policy and programming decisions. The final report is expected to have several components, including recommendations on implementing the findings.

According to early findings, McLellan said, SACU is perceived as separate from and not integrated with the larger system of services and care for people with developmental disabilities; and the unit may not be adapting to the changing needs of the population it serves.

Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, who co-chairs the task force, and Eva Rippeteau, a task force member and political coordinator for the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, said that many of the consultant’s initial findings were not surprising.

Gelser asked McLellan what SACU was doing now to address the issues, some of which Gelser said did not require funding to improve.

McLellan, pointing to particular feedback indicating that SACU residents did not appear to spend enough time in “meaningful engagement” in the community, said the unit is still trying to get more information.

McLellan said she believed on average a SACU resident has 10 hours a month of “meaningful engagement,” which the consultant considered low and which McLellan said was not an “acceptable” number of hours.

It’s possible there are a variety of reasons for that low number, McLellan said — there may not be enough staff or transportation to support many community outings, for example.

A representative from the consultancy is expected to attend the next task force meeting to discuss the findings.

McLellan also qualified her report to the task force, saying it was based on her conversations with the consultant, and that the recommendations may look different when compiled into a final report.