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Goal: Preventing tragedy in Central Oregon

By Brittany Weiner
Published On: Jun 06 2013 11:51:10 PM CDT

Mental health usually becomes the focus after a mass shooting, and hear in Central Oregon the mental health issue is just as serious as it is nationwide.

BEND, Ore. -

In his former jobs, Bend Police Chief Jeff Sale has investigated a shooting at the Fairchild Air Force Base Hospital in 1994, and a high school shooting, also in Washington.  

"Any time you end up at a scene where there's that amount of chaos, that amount of death, that amount of injury, all contained into one space, it does have an impact on you," Sale said Thursday. 

He knows mental health issues become the main focus after these crimes, but Sale said dealing with it beforehand, in a prevention effort, can be confusing and run into obstacles.

On Wednesday night, he told the Bend City Council some frightening stories his school resource officers hear about kids talking about committing violence, but officers can't tell teachers about it because of federal privacy laws like HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

"We try to interact with all of our partners -- with the schools, with mental health, with probation and parole -- but everybody feels restricted," said Sale. 

Lawyers often recommend saying less -- as little as possible, to avoid legal problems.

Sale wants to fund a program that researches the correct interpretation of the law, to change it.

"One of two things: Yes, you're interpreting it correctly, you can not share that information, or no, you're reading this wrong, here's what you can actually do," said Sale.

The two-year pilot program would, to the extent that's legal, bring all community resources together to share information on young people with mental issues, in order to keep the community safe. 

"I spend nine months in the school, and I spend the rest of the time on the streets," said Bend-La Pine School Resource Officer Scott Vincent. "The same things you see in the streets are happening in our school district."

Just like Sale, Vincent says communication could be the answer.

"We have all the information about what took place at the school, we take that child to the hospital, and then when that child comes back to our school, we don't get the information from the hospital," said Vincent. "Because of laws that prevent that communication."

Another part of Sale's program would bring in a coordinator to oversee the program, as well as a consultant to lay out how the program could work, with research from other states where this has already been done. 

Sale says the next step is to seek state funding to begin.

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