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Treatment house completes first year in Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighborhood

by: David F. Ashton Serving himself dinner, Matthew Rinker, Chair of the Ardenwald/Johnson Creek Neighborhood Association, said that he’s “cautiously optimistic” about the new treatment home’s operation.

When the City of Milwaukie settled its lawsuit, on September 16, 2008, there was no further obstacle to the construction of a residential treatment facility in the southeast corner of the Ardenwald-Johnson Creek neighborhood. Nonetheless, many neighbors vigorously expressed concern that this facility might bring the 'criminally insane' to their community.

As covered in October and November, 2008, and the November, 2009, issues of THE BEE, the 'Balfour House' - in a compromise with the community - was downsized from fifteen to eight patient beds; and operator ColumbiaCare Services, which provides mental health and residential services for citizens, signed a 'Good Neighbor' agreement with the neighborhood association.

The 'Johnson Creek Secure Residential Treatment Facility' at 2808 S.E. Balfour Street finally 'moved into' the well-kept building on February 16, 2010.

Facility Administrator Andrew Axer, PhD, admitted at a March 7 community dinner at the house that 'when we came here, we came with very little credit of confidence from the neighborhood. I think our 'confidence credit score' has increased since then.'

Staying in touch with the neighborhood association has helped that confidence to grow, Axer said. 'They, and our immediate neighbors, have been frequent guests here. They've been able to get to know the residents - it's still the same residents who moved in here a year ago - and to talk with them, and listen to their stories. They also are gaining confidence that our residents are people, in many ways, like us.'

Matthew Rinker, Chair of the Ardenwald/Johnson Creek Neighborhood Association, agreed. 'Andrew Axer has done a good job, so far, keeping the lines of communication open. We're gaining a lot of faith in him and his staff, in being able to make good professional choices.'

Asked if the year had passed without incident, Axer replied, 'We never caused any risk of harm to anyone around us. We didn't have a single incident in which we had to call the police for emergency reasons. There were some problems internally; but when any eight people live together, that's not unexpected. I would say that the residents have shown an incredible ability to get along with each other.'

Residents at the facility have gained 'some privileges' granted by the Psychiatric Review Board - the body that assumes jurisdiction over persons in Oregon found to be 'guilty except for insanity' of a crime, and sets the terms of their conditional release.

'None has gained a privilege to leave unsupervised, without staff,' Axer pointed out. 'We do provide individual outings for each client, accompanied by staff, twice a week.'

Asked if his concerns have all been allayed, Rinker responded, 'Speaking for myself, I would call it cautious optimism. I have a lot of faith in Andrew and his staff. For the foreseeable future, I think we have a good partnership.'

A lingering anxiety, Rinker added, is what could happen if management changed. 'Would the new management have the same sense of cooperation, openness, professionalism, and communication with the community?'

At that dinner, Patricia Moist said she lives 'right across the street' from the facility. 'Our relationship has been good; actually, fantastic. I think it is a good addition to the neighborhood.'

The Executive Director of the Psychiatric Security Review Board (PSRB), Mary Claire Buckley, JD, also stopped by the celebration. 'This facility has exceeded our expectations.'

Buckley characterized it as a 'model facility', built from the ground up to treat clients who were 'found guilty except for insanity'. '[Mental health professionals] at the Oregon State Hospital, the PSRB, Clackamas County, and ColumbiaCare will make the collaborative decision when these people no longer need a hospital level of care, and are ready to make the first step back into the community.'

About the physical plant, Buckley commented, 'When you give people a place where they can feel comfortable, it gives them a positive mindset. I think the staff has done an excellent job of managing their clients. And I expect that they will continue to do so.'

Asked about the management's stability, Buckley responded, 'I think ColumbiaCare is very committed to this facility. Most of their staff has been here the entire year, which is unusual in group homes. I do not anticipate this will be an issue.'

As the celebratory dinner was served, Rinker added, 'The comfort level with this facility is increasing, but we are going to stay involved, stay active, and keep our finger on the pulse here.'