What was denounced as "deplorable housing" by state health officials five months ago has been transformed by OnTrack Inc. into almost-new apartments for drug offenders and their families undergoing rehabilitation.
OnTrack hopes state officials in the next month will lift a restriction on allowing drug-addicted clients to move back into two crisis housing complexes in west Medford that have been remodeled with new roofs, windows, bathrooms, kitchens, flooring and paint. The complexes are at 403 W. 12th St. and 611 11th St.
The two complexes were closed in January after health officials found rotted flooring and mold, among other safety issues.
"There's been some deferred maintenance," acknowledged Rick Nagel, interim executive director of OnTrack.
Questions remain about how long the units had gone without maintenance, and why the OnTrack board of directors didn't take action earlier. Longtime Executive Director Rita Sullivan was let go in February after three months’ administrative leave, and an interim director, Dr. Kerri Hecox, left after less than a month.
Over the years, OnTrack's board has received glowing reports about housing and other operations at OnTrack, said Nagel, who had served on the board before stepping into the director role.
"Everything the board received was positive," he said. "The OnTrack board was not aware of any deferred maintenance."
Only after site visits by Oregon Health Authority officials in January did the OnTrack board realize the extent of the problem, which led to the closure of the two crisis housing units, Nagel said. The teen program housing at Holly and Fifth streets also was closed, and the adolescents were moved to another location.
Nagel said he didn't know how many years the units had gone without being upgraded, but vowed that OnTrack has taken steps to make sure it doesn't happen again.
OnTrack has invested $600,000 into remodeling projects, in which workers pulled out rotted floor boards and rickety cabinets and improved the safety of the units. A local hotel also donated furniture for many of the units.
Nagel said OnTrack has sufficient reserves to pay for the repairs and said his organization would pump more money into the crisis housing and other OnTrack housing, if needed.
OnTrack also has finished repairs to the HOME Program, also known as the Mom's Program, at 3397 Delta Waters Avenue. However, the OHA won't allow any new clients into the 45-bed facility. Currently it operates only for outpatients. OnTrack plans to hold a public open house at the Mom's Program from 2 to 7 p.m. June 19.
OHA warned OnTrack it may pull its license for the Mom's Program after investigators found significant health and safety risks, including failure to send two infants with serious illnesses to the emergency room.
Nagel said he hopes to hear soon from the state whether OnTrack can start accepting mothers, who are either pregnant or have infants, to live at the facility while they are in recovery.
Families that were going to crisis housing have been placed elsewhere by the Department of Human Services, according to Nagel.
Carol Wilcox, clinical director at OnTrack, said she didn't want to dwell too much on past issues but acknowledged that the poor state of housing had developed over some time and that she was aware of it.
"I did know," she said.
Late last year, Wilcox said she considered leaving the organization but wanted to remain on board as she watched the progress being made to improve the units and improve OnTrack in general.
"I wanted to see it go forward," she said. "I wanted to see OnTrack have a healthy organization again."
At the 11th Street housing near Oakdale Avenue, the dilapidated units have been remodeled with new kitchens and bathrooms, new floors and new furniture. The 12th Street complex is still undergoing extensive work, though it should be completed within a month.
OnTrack has hired a facilities manager to keep on top of its units to prevent falling behind on maintenance, Nagel said.
"There will definitely be accountability," Nagel said.
Going forward, he said, when a client leaves a unit, an assessment will be made about what needs upgrading.
OnTrack also has hired a trainer to coach clients on how to maintain a home and how to handle children.
"We have many clients who are coming in right off the street, so they don't have any idea how to take care of a house," Wilcox said.