A letter to the community

Collaborating to address a major public health need

Over 18 months ago four leading health care systems in Portland embarked on a courageous journey to imagine a different way to deliver mental health care in Portland. In January 2017, Legacy Health, OHSU, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, and Adventist Health opened the area’s first comprehensive 24/7 behavioral health care center, Unity Center for Behavioral Health.

Unity Center created a new way to care for people experiencing a behavioral health emergency, reducing the stigma of mental illness, addressing a major public health need in our community. The primary objective for all of us who have invested in Unity Center is to improve the quality and effectiveness of care for patients in crisis by providing the right care at the right time in the right setting, creating a pathway to hope, community and recovery.

Unity Center offers psychiatric emergency care for adults experiencing an acute psychiatric crisis. It also includes a 107-bed inpatient facility with services for both adults and adolescents who require additional care and treatment.

A goal of Unity Center is to reduce the amount of time behavioral health patients wait before seeing a psychiatrist. Before Unity Center opened, typical wait times in local area emergency departments for behavioral health patients to be seen by a trained mental health professional were between 40 to 60 hours.  

Another goal is improving outcomes for behavioral health patients through enhanced access to community-based services upon discharge.

We have set out to create a better way to care for people in a mental health crisis. In many ways, we have made strides in helping people and addressing a major public health issue in our community.  We have cared for more than 7,000 people at Unity Center since we opened.

Mistakes made and lessons learned

Unity Center follows a unique model of care that has never been done before. It is a truly original paradigm. Having said that, we acknowledge that there have been challenges.

Recent investigations by the Oregon Health Authority and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration revealed aspects of care and how we ensure patient and staff safety that demands greater attention.

The investigations have given us an opportunity to look deeper into areas of patient safety, including the physical environment at the hospital, and make immediate improvements.

There are legitimate concerns about the safety of patients and staff at Unity Center, and we have taken a hard look at the circumstances that shaped our first year of operation. The challenges of bringing together four different health system cultures under one roof was greater than we anticipated. At the time we opened Unity Center in 2017, we believed the critical need for mental health care services in the community was so great that we opened the hospital as quickly as possible. In retrospect, we should have had stronger policies and procedures in place, along with a robust training program for all staff.

We acknowledge mistakes were made during our first year of operation and we are diligently working to address each deficiency outlined in the Oregon Health Authority corrective action plan. We have made significant progress to ensure our patients are safe and being cared for in an environment dedicated to patient and staff safety and wellbeing.  We will be completely transparent about the specific steps and corrections we’ve implemented at Unity Center to improve safety once the Oregon Health Authority investigation is complete.

Our commitment to our patients, staff, partners, family and friends of loved ones being cared for at Unity Center and the larger community remains steadfast.  

The mission hasn’t changed

The need for high-acuity psychiatric care in our city is greater than it has ever been. The reason we committed to opening Unity Center hasn’t changed. Unity Center and its leadership, its partners and its staff believe that people experiencing a behavioral health crisis deserve the same dignity, respect and attentive expert care as any Oregonian who is experiencing a medical emergency.

One of the core foundational principles that guides the direction and mission of Unity Center is to provide psychiatric treatment to those suffering from mental health illness in a “trauma-informed” environment.

Unity provides a revolutionary approach to behavioral and mental health emergencies within this trauma-informed model. Not everyone agrees with this approach.  

Our goal remains to overcome an ingrained institutional culture that sought to restrain patients rather than working with them, that sought to medicate patients rather than seeking to understand their mental health challenges and past traumas.

Unity Center will continue to fully cooperate with Oregon Health Authority as we take steps to prevent safety hazards and review oversights from occurring in the future, and we will do a better job of communicating our progress.

Above all, we remain committed to our mission of good health for our people, patients and our world — and safety is paramount to this mission. We appreciate your continued support for our staff as we dedicate ourselves to improving the mental health of our city and as we fulfill our promise of providing outstanding care to our patients every day.

On behalf of the Unity Center for Behavioral Health Board of Managers,

Everett W. Newcomb III, D.O.

Chief Operating Officer
Legacy Health