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Story by Oregon Herald staff
Published on Friday January 18, 2019 - 6:55 PM
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PORTLAND, Oregon -A non-profit organization who raised concerns helped overturn contractor Kepro's decision to force 17 severely mentally ill patients out of state-funded residential facilities.

The Oregon Health Authority had hired the Pennsylvania-based contractor Kepro to review the cases of about 1,600 patients in the facilities to determine if they all needed to be there. The review was part of a $27 million contract for a three-year project, the newspaper said.

But after the newspaper reported late last year that at least three people suffered serious harm after discharge — including an older schizophrenic woman who was found wandering the streets catatonic and severely dehydrated after her release — the agency began taking action.

Disability Rights Oregon has also undertaken a months-long investigation into the contractor's work.

"Clearly, there was some room for improvement as far as what OHA expected," said Saerom England, a state spokeswoman. "This is about the care, quality and safety of residents in the mental health residential system."

OHA has a team of three mental health professionals reviewing all of Kepro's care decisions and so far, the state has reversed the contractor in all of 17 cases they've looked at, the newspaper reported.

Kepro declined to address directly the reversals. Chief operating officer Meghan Harris said in an email that the company is working to amend its contract with Oregon and believes those changes will "improve our ability to serve the state and the patients."

The patients whose cases were reviewed by Kepro included about 250 people living in locked residential facilities. State officials have said at least 215 people from those facilities have had to move elsewhere after Kepro decided they didn't qualify to stay.

The state's new oversight is limited to people who want to stay in a secure facility or move into one.

The Oregonian/OregonLive last year reported that the Kepro contract and its implementation had been riddled with problems, from paperwork that violated federal law to cases of serious harm to people forced to leave a facility after the company determined they no longer qualified.

Months after Disability Rights Oregon asked the state for a tally of people who ended up hospitalized, homeless, or in jail after they were removed from facilities, state officials told the group they did not have an answer.

One of those people, Ruane Oliverio, was kicked out of a locked facility in Portland last June despite warnings from clinicians that the 54-year-old with schizophrenia was too vulnerable. After being hospitalized multiple times, she was sent to Oregon State Hospital, the highest and most expensive level of care.

Oliverio was one of the 17 people who Kepro recently decided did not qualify to be cared for in a secure facility. Her mother was getting ready to appeal Kepro's latest decision when the OHA told her this week that Oliverio could, in fact, move back to a locked facility.

The agency now wants to catch improper denials on the front end so they don't have to track down patients after they've been forced out.

"It's a lot easier to prevent a crisis or a negative outcome," England said.