State recommends dropping decertification threat for Portland mental health facility

(KATU Photo)

The Oregon Health Authority Thursday recommended that the federal government drop the threat of taking away Medicare and Medicaid certification for Northeast Portland's Unity Center for Behavioral Health.

OHA officials launched an investigation into Unity's operations after receiving a complaint last February that patients and staff were endangered by practices inside the facility.

The Oregon Health Authority investigation at Unity uncovered management that investigators say was so bad that it allowed some patients to be given the wrong medication and allowed one patient at Unity to successfully commit suicide while inside the facility.

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, known as CMS, has threatened to pull Unity's certification and stop payments to Legacy Health, which operates Unity.

But state officials say their latest check on Unity, which lasted three straight days ending Wednesday, shows enough changes have been made that there's no need for sanctions.

"Unity Center for Behavioral Health has met our requirements for ensuring patient safety, staff safety, that it is implementing an acceptable plan of correction," said Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie. "Their plan going forward is acceptable and that they can continue to meet the state - federal and state standards that have been placed on them."

Legacy Health released a statement Thursday which said, “We are awaiting a determination from CMS and remain focused on the safety and well-being of our patients and staff.”

Jason Renaud of the Mental Health Association of Portland understands why problems started showing up at Unity within months of the facility opening up in January 2017.

"The persons who designed Unity weren't ready for the amount of need there was in the community, and we now need to look at whether there's a need for other facilities as well," said Renaud.

In May and again in July, Oregon Health Authority inspectors found conditions inside Unity that were life-threatening to both patients and staff.

A July OHA report sent to federal authorities cited "unsafe contraband items" found inside Unity, "medication errors" made by the staff and one "successful patient suicide" as signs of the problems.

The federal CMS is expected to decide whether to accept the Oregon Health Authority's recommendation sometime in the next two weeks.

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