Documentary provides insight and explores mental illness at Oregon State Hospital

By Michelle Cole, The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

June 25–The latest film about Oregon’s infamous state mental hospital contains scenes from Hollywood’s “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” but the stories it tells are real.

“Guilty Except for Insanity” is a 90-minute documentary offering viewers a chance to get to know three men and two women who are patients at the Oregon State Hospital. It chronicles the haunting events that landed them in the hospital, what life is like on the ward and just how difficult it is to get better and get out.

The film started as a class project for Portland State University psychology professor Jan Haaken, who turned more than two years and 70 interviews into a documentary slated for its Portland premiere Sunday night.

Haaken talked with The Oregonian Thursday about the film, including her plans to do a final edit in response to the feedback she gets from Sunday’s audience. Here is condensed version of that interview:

The five patients you featured have interesting yet terrible stories how did you choose them?

I wanted ethnic diversity and gender diversity. I found that over half of the patients we approached wanted to have their story told. Those stories, in one way or another, involve people whose lives had fallen apart quite a bit before the state steps in — and we step in with a heavy boot.

What did you learn from making this film?
I started thinking the hospital was an evil place. I don’t any more. I see these places as shock absorbers in a very troubled system.

During the time you were making this documentary, there were a number of controversial events, yet you don’t mention the patient who was dead in his bed for hours before staff noticed or the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice investigation. Was that on purpose?
Yes. I wanted to focus on the people in the hospital and those who carry out the work.

What do you want Oregon viewers to take away from your documentary?
The film is different from social-problem documentaries in that it doesn’t direct you to do a particular thing at the end or offer a clear resolution in terms of who the bad guy is.

People carry these images of the “criminally insane,” I’m hoping people will see more of the complex humanity.

Have the patients and staff seen this film and will any of them be there for the Portland premiere?
Yes. All five of the featured patients will be with me and taking questions and comments from the audience.

— Michelle Cole

Documentary Website:


Controversy over Connell House comes to a close Facility will house 12 people with mental disorders

Controversy over Connell House comes to a close
Facility will house 12 people with mental disorders

By Christian Gaston

Chase Allgood / News-Times

Luke-Dorf Executive Director Howard Spanbock (left) consults his lawyer Tuesday.

The year-long battle over Connell House, the residential treatment facility in Cornelius, came to a quiet end last Tuesday as city planning commissioners signed off on a brokered deal to turn the facility into an unlocked group home housing individuals thought to require less supervision than those who previously lived there.

The deal, which first surfaced last October, reduces the security and staffing at the facility, more or less addressing the issues Cornelius officials had with the site since it opened in 2007.

But beyond clearing the air in Cornelius, state officials say last week’s 2-to-1 vote opens up eight critically important beds for the treatment of people with serious mental disorders on conditional release from the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

“The importance of these types of facilities can’t be overstated,” said Marie Claire Buckley, director of the Psychiatric Security Review Board, the state agency that oversees patients with criminal backgrounds who get released from the state hospital.

Buckley said that at any given time, there are 25 to 30 individuals her board has cleared for release but are waiting to find a place to stay.

The troubles at Connell House haven’t helped matters. Last June, state officials removed the residents from the facility following the escape of a man who was put there because of a civil commitment.

Buckley and her colleagues spent the last year negotiating opposition in Milwaukie over a secure residential treatment facility, as well as other similar homes throughout the state.

“It’s become more difficult to site these homes in various areas around the state,” Buckley said.

Initially, Connell House will only house eight residents. The first two residents of the new facility moved in last week, and Buckley expects two more to move in soon. Eventually, the home will be able to accommodate 12 patients who are deemed ready to start reintegrating with the community.

At the planning commission hearing last week, Howard Spanbock, executive director of Luke-Dorf, the non-profit that operates Connell House, said the new group home has a “lower impact” than the locked facility.

The lower impacts range from traffic, to parking, to security concerns.

Those concerns led city officials to revoke Connell House’s conditional use permit last January, asserting that Luke-Dorf hadn’t made it clear during the permit approval process what kind of facility they were constructing.

Luke-Dorf officials appealed the city’s decision to revoke the permit and the issue wound up back at the planning commission, with a brokered deal to reopen the facility with a new conditional use permit that describes a facility much more like the one city officials said they thought they were originally approving in 2007.

“Changing the use to a residential treatment facility will lessen the impact on the community,” said Dick Reynolds, Cornelius senior planner.

The facility will have fewer staff members on site – three to five employees – which should calm concerns about cars overflowing into on-street parking.

Residents at Connell House will also be encouraged to use public transit to reach medical appointments in Hillsboro or be transported in a Luke-Dorf bus.

The planning commission approved the deal in a 2-to-1 vote, with Commissioner Catherine Sidman voting against the plan.

“There’s a credibility issue that I’m having a difficult time with,” Sidman said. “Essentially what’s being requested is what was requested last time, which I never felt was what happened on the site.”

Planning Commission Chair Vicki Cordell made it clear that any substantial changes in operations needed to come before the planning commission.

“I’d like to keep it in the residential treatment facility niche,” Cordell said.

Nick Sherwood was the only Cornelius resident to speak, voicing concerns that poor notification of the meeting hurt turnout.

The sparse crowd was a big change from last year, when notices distributed by Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon about the sexual nature of the crimes a trio of Connell House residents had committed drew more than 200 angry residents to a public meeting on the topic.

Time may have lessened the fervor, but also, education may have calmed some nerves.

“We’ve learned a lot about residential care facilities in this process,” said Reynolds.

Cornelius treatment facility agrees to cut resident risk levels

Cornelius treatment facility agrees to cut resident risk levels
“Guilty except for insanity” clients will have to show they are making progress before they can move in

Wednesday, October 08, 2008
The Oregonian Staff

CORNELIUS — The 10-month controversy between the city and Connell House — a secure residential treatment facility for people found “guilty except for insanity” of serious crimes — may be nearing an end.

Owner-operator Luke-Dorf Inc. agreed Monday to change the nature of the facility and operate it as a regular residential treatment facility, a step down from the “secure” status that caused neighborhood concern.

Under the new arrangement, Connell House would still accept people who had committed crimes and were found “guilty except for insanity,” said Len Ray, a state mental health administrator.

But these residents would be considered lower risk, Ray said, because they would have met treatment requirements for a long enough time in a higher-security setting — requirements such as obeying house rules, consistently taking medications and following conditions set by the state’s Psychiatric Security Review Board.

“They really are progressing toward recovery,” Ray said.

The state closed Connell House in June after a resident escaped by climbing the fence.

Before that, neighbors were up in arms after learning that some in the home had committed serious crimes, including rape and arson, and were newly released from the Oregon State Hospital.

And the city revoked Luke-Dorf’s conditional-use permit, claiming that the Planning Commission had approved a different kind of facility, based on an incomplete picture presented to the commission by Luke-Dorf.

Nobody had anticipated the lack of adequate parking, staff said, which has led to cars parking illegally in bike lanes and on unapproved lots.

Luke-Dorf appealed the permit revocation, first to the Planning Commission and then to the City Council, where Mayor Bill Bash disclosed Monday that he had worked as Luke-Dorf’s chief executive officer for a year or two in the late 1980s.

Recently, state and city officials have been discussing how to handle Connell House, said Micky Logan of the Department of Justice.

“The state of Oregon needs to have more group homes,” she said Monday. “We want to work in partnership with the city and Luke-Dorf to take what has been a bad year and move forward.”

Luke-Dorf attorney Ed Sullivan said Luke-Dorf had agreed to accept the new arrangement and would hold a public meeting, as required, to discuss the change with neighbors. The meeting won’t occur for at least three weeks.

The City Council voted to send the matter back to the Planning Commission, where Luke-Dorf would have 60 days to modify or reapply for the conditional-use permit.

Cornelius City Manager Dave Waffle said he feels good about the agreement: “It honors our local land-use rules, protects the community and perhaps avoids any litigation, and is really part of the evolving practice of mental health care in Oregon. We’re happy to be part of that.”

Jill Rehkopf Smith: 503-294-5908;