About three weeks ago, Gordon Lorsung found himself and his coworkers confronting a woman brandishing a pointed, broken piece of bamboo as police officers stood nearby, serving as "back up." The officers eventually did step in and wrestle her into the vehicle Lorsung's team brought to the school, where she had barricaded herself in a stand of bamboo.
They sedated her after she tried to kick out the car windows, and she eventually went home.
Home for this woman is one of the state's 23 Stabilization and Crisis Unit group homes for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities, under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services.
Lorsung and his colleagues from around the Willamette Valley told the House Health Care Committee on Wednesday that the people coming into these homes have changed over the years, and today, their training and facilities don't live up to the violence they're seeing.
The crisis homes originally housed people coming from Fairview Training Center, the Salem facility for those with developmental disabilities. In recent years, however, they're receiving many people coming from the Oregon State Hospital or the state's prisons, and it's a very different crowd, they said.
Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas, is one of several legislators who asked for the information hearing Wednesday. He has workers in his district, although none of the homes are in his district. He said it's a very serious problem.
For example, residents have done damage to homes that would cost an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 to fix, he said, including ripping out toilets and tearing sinks out of walls.
Further, staff said some clients -- particularly those coming out of prison -- can be very violent.
"Our children see us leave for work and see us come home looking like this," Matt Orser said, pointing to a poster board with photos of gruesome injuries, including a bite with a chunk of flesh gone. "We're stuck in the 20th century. We need to get to the 21st century. Our training is behind."
Orser is a trainer in the Eugene and Lebanon areas, and he said staff simply aren't equipped to deal with violence, and neither are the state's laws. Neglect and abuse laws are designed to protect developmentally disabled people who require special attention. However, they're extremely rigid, don't account for violence and can ruin a career if violated.
For example, restraint laws are very strict for this population, but that makes it nearly impossible to stop someone from being violent, staff said. One client broke a worker's jaw by swinging an aluminum water bottle as a weapon. Another kicked a worker so hard it broke the worker's ribs.
Randy Ridderbusch, representative for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 1246, said every house has at least one person like this.
He told the story of a man with autism who lives in a home and has very difficult behavioral problems, as many people do in these settings. His roommate, however, is indiscriminately violent. When he gets angry, the autistic man must be moved to another part of the house to keep him safe, which is both traumatizing and disruptive for him and exacerbates his own behavioral struggles.
Staff told the committee they want the Oregon Legislature to examine the laws surrounding these homes. Most are in residential areas, near schools and playgrounds.
For example, one house in Keizer is less than a mile from Clagget Creek Middle School and Hallman Elementary School.
What's more, they said, Oregon law doesn't require neighbors be told who is in these homes. The state holds informational meetings, Lorsung said, but the neighbors generally think the house is a "group home" but aren't told if the residents have criminal histories, including sex abuse.
Thompson said he found the staff's account of these homes compelling.
"It's only a matter of time that we're going to kill someone," he said. "My guess is we're going to need a different kind of facility and a different kind of training."
Ridderbusch said those are the kinds of solutions they're looking for in the legislature.
"We don't have the answers," he said. "We just want your help."
nal .com, (503) 399-6719 or follow on Twitter @HannahKHoffman