In the community

Lifeways’opening new youth treatment center in Ontario

ONTARIO – Lifeways’ addiction treatment center in Ontario is gearing up to open a new youth center to treat young people separately for substance abuse and mental illness.

The youth center, located at 1257 S.W. 4th Ave., will officially open Thursday, Aug. 24, with a ceremonial ribbon cutting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., according to Steve Jensen, Lifeways chief executive.

He said the youth center would have a soft opening the week before the grand opening. Jensen said most youth will be treated with individual therapy.

Jensen said the services available at the youth center would include addiction treatment, individual counseling, medication management and providers that offer other services, such as peer mentoring. Additionally, Jensen said the youth center will provide in-house intensive behavioral therapy as it does at the primary location.

Jensen said Lifeways often has a lot of people in its main lobby and that the nonprofit wanted to have a location where they could separate children in a “warm and inviting place.”

Jensen said the desire was to offer additional space for children to receive services in an area or a building designed just for them.

Also, Jensen said without a separate place for children, parents in the community felt Lifeways was not meeting the needs of them and their children.

“I wanted to provide a space where all of Ontario’s children could be where their needs for mental health and recovery could be met,” Jensen said.

Jensen said Lifeways would schedule appointments out of the primary location and that the youth center would not have a separate phone number.

More than a year out from the height of the pandemic, isolation and school shutdowns during the pandemic left kids struggling to stay mentally well at home. Jensen said there is still a “high need in the community” for mental health services.

Also, Jensen said, there is more awareness of mental illness among children than before the pandemic. Jensen said childhood poverty in Malheur County is one of the main drivers of mental illness among youth in the region. The county has the highest rate of poverty in Oregon.

Roughly 13% of Malheur County youth – about 1,030 kids – had unmet mental health needs in 2020. Across Oregon, half of the 40,000 kids who had a major depressive episode last year didn’t receive mental health treatment.

Anxiety and depression among kids and teens have grown sharply over the past few years across Malheur County, according to county officials.

He said Lifeways also understands that when mental illness is being treated in youth, sometimes substance use is not addressed. That said, with fentanyl use picking up in the region, Jensen said Lifeways wants to be “bridging that gap with treatment for both substance use and mental health.”

He said often, a provider will diagnose a mental illness and substance abuse disorder in children and adults.

“Many times,” he said, “they go together.”

Jensen said Lifeways also wants the youth center to be a community gathering place. With one larger meeting room and a smaller room, Jensen said he envisions the location providing parenting classes or a place for groups such as the Boys and Girls Club to meet.

The idea, he said, is for the facility to be a “drop-in” place for community partnerships and meetings.

“We want this building,” he said, “to really be a community resource.”

Lifeways was founded in 1997 to handle Malheur County mental health services. It also serves Umatilla County and has expanded into Idaho.  

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article partially listed the address of the youth center. The address is 1257 S.W. 4th Ave.

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