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Lutheran Community Services gets land use approval for PMH facility

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Mental Health Services organization still in due diligence period for purchase of the former hospital

Lutheran Community Service took another step toward taking over the vacated Pioneer Memorial Hospital facility last week.

The Prineville Planning Commission granted the organization a conditional use permit, which will enable them to provide mental health services for Crook County residents at the approximately 50,000 square-foot building.

Pioneer Memorial Hospital has sat vacant and unused since September 2015, when St. Charles Prineville opened to replace the aging facility. According to Scott Willard, former Crook County Mental Health Director and current Central Oregon Area Director of Lutheran Community Services, the organization is hoping to purchase the PMH campus for $1.5 million. Lutheran is currently in the midst of its 90-day due diligence period, and so far, efforts have included inspections of the facility as well as site planner and staff visits to the site.

Part of that due diligence process is obtaining a conditional use permit from the city planning department, a requirement made necessary by both the age of the building and the amount of time it has sat vacant.

"The building was built in 1950," explained City Planning Director Phil Stenbeck. "When PMH closed, they didn't immediately transfer into another hospital or medical service-type facility (on the site). It closed down for a little over a year. So by land use code, that required a conditional use permit to reopen as a hospital/medical services facility."

Because the PMH facility will be used for similar activities as a hospital, the process of obtaining the land use permit was not very complicated or arduous, Stenbeck said. Lutheran Community Services has already occupied a building adjacent to the PMH site and hopes to operate numerous services out of the space once they purchase it. For example, one area previously used for conferences and physical therapy would house Lutheran's administrative offices.

"Within two years, the pharmacy space would be converted for a treatment site for our seriously mentally ill," Willard said. "Then the clinic space (west of the pharmacy) is where we would concentrate most of our operations. Within three years, all of our counseling services would be in this clinic area."

Willard also plans to use the hospital rooms to the north of the pharmacy area, saying they could provide a space for a rehab center or memory care facility for senior citizens. "We were thinking it would be wise not to re-create the wheel here," he said. "It is already set up as hospital room."

In addition to Lutheran Community Services uses, Willard said they have begun reaching out to other community nonprofits such as KIDS Center and allied government organizations like the Department of Human Services and child welfare to share the location as a social services hub targeting children and families.

The purchase agreement comes at a time when Lutheran Community Services is seeing continued and significant growth.

"Over the last nine years, we have gone from that little chapel to a building across the street from the county annex," Willard said. "We outgrew it within two weeks of being in that brand new space."