Each year in Oregon, an estimated 1 in 20 adults experience a serious mental illness and 31,000 adolescents suffer a major depressive episode that often leads to other social issues. Untreated mental illness is common among the prison population both nationally and locally. The Oregon Department of Corrections has determined that more than half of Oregon’s prison population has been diagnosed with a mental illness. Suicide is almost always the result of untreated or undertreated mental illness. The suicide rate in Oregon is among the highest in the country with Oregon ranking ninth out of the 50 states. Among youth and young adults ages 15-25, suicide is second only to unintentional injuries as the leading cause of death. For years, the system for treating mental illness has been fragmented, presenting significant challenges for patients, families, providers, and the community as a whole. It has been a system in crisis.
In response to this crisis and its effect on the health of our entire community, Legacy Health, Adventist Health, Kaiser Permanente and Oregon Health & Science University have joined together to create a new model of care where no one is left untreated and patients have access to the timely services and supports they need to succeed. As the first behavioral health center of its kind in the region, the Unity Center for Behavioral Health is expected to become a national model for providing compassionate mental health care in times of crisis, without unnecessary waiting.
This unprecedented collaboration of four health systems shares the goal of providing care for all those in need through a combination of emergency, inpatient and robust transition to outpatient services and embraces the concepts of hope, recovery and resilience. The Unity Center includes 80 adult patient beds and 22 beds for adolescents, a 24/7 Psychiatric Emergency Department, and also houses organizations that provide community behavioral health services, helping to coordinate continued support to patients after discharge. In addition, the model incorporates onsite patient support from peers who have successfully overcome mental illness and addictions themselves.
Unity has and will continue to serve as a nexus, helping to focus the individual resources and efforts formerly offered by four disparate health systems and other community-based organizations into a coordinated effort to improve access and care for patients with behavioral health disorders.
Healing the Body and Soul
Every element of the Unity Center was designed as a therapeutic environment to support hope, hospitality, recovery and resilience for behavioral health patients. A key feature of the new center will be a beautiful 20,000 square foot healing garden. This garden will include two physically separate areas so that patient populations of different ages, as well as those experiencing different acuities of mental illness, can enjoy outdoor time in the garden separately. All Unity Center patients will be offered the chance to visit the garden at least once each day.
The Healing Garden will serve the needs of all who visit, providing increased opportunities for:
- Stress reduction for all visitors, including patients, visitors, and staff. Proven benefits of access to nature include the reduction of anxiety, sadness, anger, worry, fatigue, and pain.
- Equilibrium for patients. Through exposure to nature, patients will experience a lessening of agitation and transformation toward a state of steadiness, calm, and equilibrium.
- Movement, exercise and recreation in the garden. Through outdoor exercise sessions, patients will have opportunities to maintain their physical health, benefit from the mental health improvements generated by physical exertion, and channel and work out agitation.
- Sense of control for patients and families through choices among varying settings and independent activities available in the garden.
- Socialization through group activities supported with built-in tables for group games and projects.
- Respite for patients and their families. Family groups will visit together away from the inpatient rooms to experience four seasons of beauty and sensory stimulation in nature.
- Restorative setting for physicians, nurses and other staff to recharge in a private staff space set aside within the garden so that they can continue to provide top quality care.
- Volunteer opportunities for community members to help build and maintain the garden as a community treasure.
Exercise in the Garden
Regular exercise can be a vital healing support for behavioral health patients. Exercise promotes healthy mechanisms to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also help patients adjust to new medications and promotes better sleep. Individualized and group therapy in the garden can help patients learn more effective coping and self-management skills.
The Unity Center Healing Garden will feature a number of elements specifically designed to engage patients in mindfulness and exercise. These include:
- Walkways to support patients who can benefit from pacing activity.
- A covered fitness area equipped with outdoor treadmills and other exercise equipment.
- A covered play area for basketball and other outdoor games.
- A yoga area to promote relaxation and balance.
- A labyrinth for mindful focus and relaxation.
The cost to create the Unity Center Healing Garden is estimated at $600,000, which includes outdoor exercise equipment and the construction of the fitness and yoga areas.