County breaks ground on new health building

    Construction of a facility that will consolidate Jackson County's 300 health and human services employees now spread across nine buildings into one centralized location is under way.

    County and City of Medford officials hosted a groundbreaking ceremony for the department's $28 million 80,000-square-foot facility at 10 a.m. today at the former Medford post office location, next door to Medford City Hall. That building is long gone, soon to be replaced by the two stories that will house HHS's numerous departments like public health, mental health and developmental disability services, along with a nearby 400-space parking structure.

    Building officials said they hope to be done by winter 2014. County officials said they plan to pay the cost off in 10 years.

    "We're going to get it built right; we're going to get it paid off right," Don Skundrick, Jackson County's Board of Commissioners chairman, said at the ceremony.

    Skundrick added the new center was needed, as consolidating all departments into one building will create better efficiency among employees and better accommodate patients. Additionally, the Obama Administration's Affordable Care Act will boost the 700 or so average daily clients to at least 1,000, necessitating more space and services, he said.

    "That's going to not quite double the folks that are going to be under the Oregon (Health) Plan," Skundrick said. "The pool is going to grow bigger."

    Jackson County HHS Executive Director Mark Orndoff said the building will also boast some new services in addition to the ones that will be transferred over. He said clients will be met by a "Walmart-like" greeter when they come in, intended to expedite the triage process. A short-term walk-in crisis center is also planned, open 24 hours a day for people in the midst of an emotional episode who need a place to calm down. This, he said, will serve as a cost-saving measure.

    "Right now, many people are using the ER as their crisis center," he said, adding that carries considerable costs.

    He said the center will be modeled using a "living room concept," a

    "It basically gives folks who are in a level of crisis a place to come and chill out," Orndoff said.

    A stimuli room for children with autism, child care drop-off area, and a lending library also are planned. Orndoff hopes the library will have not just books and videos, but donated medical supplies like crutches and wheelchairs.

    The new building has drawn some flak, with critics calling it too expensive for a county that has made significant cuts. Orndoff said using the funds to pay for services in lieu of the building would have lasted for about two years.

    "We need to look out for not one budget cycle, but for the generations after us," Orndoff said.

    — Ryan Pfeil

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