January 15, 2002 11:00 pm
BUILDING SITE: The proposed building, to sit on Eastern Oregon University property on Gekeler Lane, will be located between the Forestry and Range Sciences Lab and the Short Stop. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).
BUILDING SITE: The proposed building, to sit on Eastern Oregon University property on Gekeler Lane, will be located between the Forestry and Range Sciences Lab and the Short Stop. (The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK).

By Alice Perry Linker

Observer Staff Writer

Theyve been separated by walls and even buildings the people who provide social services to Union County residents but by the end of the year, many of them will work together in one huge room in a new building in south La Grande.

The proposed building, to sit on Eastern Oregon University property on Gekeler Lane, will reflect a new organization of the state Department of Human Services, the giant department that provides child welfare and protection, senior services, assistance to families, help for people with disabilities and a range of other services.

EOU will own the building but the state will have a 25-year lease, paying about $1.34 per square foot for 26,742 square feet of building. The cost of the lease will increase 3 percent every two years, said Bob Lawrence, Oregons human services facilities manager.

The building is symbolic of whats happening in human services, said Todd Seix, service delivery area manager, who oversees Union, Wallowa and Baker counties from his Baker City office.

Whats happening is the development of what many service providers call a holistic approach to caring for people with needs or a one-stop shop.

For example, a family with a sudden decline in income because of layoffs may need retraining or employment help, food stamps, and even help in working through problems with anger, depression or potential child neglect.

Under the new human services organization, the several case managers from different agencies who would normally work separately with the family, will coordinate the help needed.

When a person walks in, there will be one reception desk with three people there, Lawrence said.

In the reception area will be computers for job search, a child welfare specialist and a representative from the training and employment consortium. Separate rooms will allow privacy for clients who want to talk about mental health issues, disabilities or other confidential matters.

We have families being served by three or four agencies, Lawrence said. There will be a primary contact person who will coordinate among the divisions. If theres a family, all the people responsible for family issues will get together and have conferences.

Union County offices of the state Employment Department, which now share an office building on East Adams Avenue with several human services agencies, will not move into the new building.

It was an employment department decision to go with a separate building, Lawrence said. Its their perception of how they deliver services. We feel they are part of the team; we want them, but thats their decision to make.

The former Adult and Family Services, now called Self Sufficiency and Employment Services, works closely with the training and employment consortium to help applicants look for and apply for jobs. Computers located in the lobby will give job seekers a way to search opportunities throughout the state.

Although the Employment Department will not be in the building, Eastern Oregon University will be an integral part of the new structure. The university will own the property and building, leasing it to the Human Services Department.

The big thing is our partnership with the university, Lawrence said. The university will have a classroom, a computer lab, and we have six conference rooms for training and meetings. Weve reached an agreement with the university to intermingle these functions; to make this a state training hub in terms of the I-84 corridor.

Community building

Verl Long, manager of the Self Sufficiency and Employment Services, sees the new building as a community building not a state building. For example, it will have conference rooms that can be used after hours.

Lawrence would like to go even further and include private,

non-profit organizations that serve people.

In White City, the Alzheimers Association, respite care, many others are in the same building, he said. Wed like to have the non-profits with us. When people are together, they talk more.

One non-profit agency, the Center for Human Development, expects to have staff people in the building to coordinate public and mental health services.

We asked for space for a mental health counselor, and weve also asked for public health space, said David Still, chief executive officer for CHD. The center has offered alcohol and drug screening in a cooperative agreement with Adult and Family Services, but Still

said hed like to see expanded mental health services in the new building.

Its my belief that with reorganization, the services would be more seamless, he said.

Jerry Buzzard, a program manager who works with at-risk families and abused children, said he believes confidentiality will be maintained and services will not be reduced.

Were all trying to figure out what this is going to be, Buzzard said. The benefits to families are real clear. There will be one case plan for families. We are all real hopeful that this will be a positive change in our service delivery, but getting there has been difficult.

Everybodys worked to death around here; everybody is busy being asked to look at their work differently.

Employees are cross training with the different agencies.

Child welfare people are going out with seniors people for a few hours through the end of this month, Buzzard said.

Although the transition has not been painless, Seix said that he believes it will be successful.

In White City, they have a similar floor plan, and they love it, Seix said. They were skeptical at first as to how it might work, but now they are really pleased as to how its worked out. They feel that theyve been able to have a more holistic approach.

Reach Alice Perry Linker at alinker