Oregon State Hospital faces dilemma with judge's order to release patients early

Oregon State Hospital faces dilemma with judge’s order to release patients early

A federal judge has ordered the state psychiatric hospital to begin releasing patients because others who need treatment are spending weeks in jail waiting to enter.

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon State Hospital will begin releasing a batch of patients each month on Oct. 12 because the hospital is so full people are delaying treatment while waiting to get in, a judge has ruled. federal.

The judge’s decision stems from a lawsuit filed 20 years ago.

In 2002, the nonprofit organization Disability Rights Oregon sued the state, saying it took too long for people with mental health issues facing criminal charges to enter the main psychiatric hospital in Oregon. the state. The court agreed and the state appealed and lost.

When the issue arose again during COVID-19 – with the hospital at capacity as people in need of treatment waited for their jail cells to be vacated – Disability Rights Oregon and the Metro Public Defenders Office reached out to a federal judge, asking for firm deadlines for a treatment that will get people out of the hospital.

Those discharged from hospital are referred to as “aid and assist” patients, meaning they have been arrested for a crime but have been deemed unfit to aid and assist in their own defense due to mental health issues. So a judge sent them to Oregon State Hospital.

RELATED: Oregon State Hospital to begin releasing patients with criminal charges

Due to the court ruling in 2002, people are not supposed to spend more than seven days in jail before being sent to the public hospital. Currently, the wait is closer to 40 days.

Emily Cooper of Disability Rights Oregon explained to KGW why she felt this issue needed to be revisited.

“Prisons aren’t designed to cure. They’re designed to punish. So prisons are in this terrible predicament of how do you keep that person safe? And the way they tend to do that is to take their clothes, to take away his belongings, to put them in isolation rooms — and that harms anyone’s mental health, let alone someone who’s already sick enough,” Cooper said. “So , you have these horrible and punitive prison conditions. But the other important thing is that people die in prison, waiting to get to the public hospital. This is why the seven-day rule that was implemented by the court 20 years ago was so important. There is a recognition – not only that their freedom is being deprived, but that there is real, serious and irrevocable harm that can happen to people while they wait.

Cooper referred to a case last spring in which a 22-year-old man died in the Washington County jail while suffering from mental health issues. He stopped eating and drinking in prison and died while waiting to be sent to a public hospital.

RELATED: Man dies in Washington County jail, facility’s 3rd death in 2 months

On September 1, a federal judge established new time limits for people receiving treatment at the state hospital while awaiting trial. The timetable calls for anyone charged with a crime to be released within 90 days; those charged with a non-violent crime must be released within six months; anyone charged with a violent crime must be released within a year.

Cooper said these new rules should allow enough time for patients to get the treatment they need.

“I think the vast majority of people sent to the state hospital for restorative treatment recover within those time frames,” Cooper said. “And we know that the hospital has what they call their ‘ready to place’ list, and right now that ready to place list, I believe, is close to 60 people who they say no longer have need to be in the public hospital And so I think the ultimate problem is that a lot of people assume that when you go to the public hospital you’re there for full mental health treatment until you be 100% better, and that’s just not the reality they talk about are just restored to their skills, which means they know who their lawyer is, they know who the judge is, they know what charges are brought against them, but they may still have unresolved mental health issues.

There will be 23 patients discharged on October 12. Seventeen of them are charged with misdemeanors and six with non-violent crimes. All are on the “ready to place” list. More than 100 patients will be discharged over the next 15 months to make room for other patients.

Many behavioral health professionals fear that patients will end up living on the streets once released.

“I think it’s a valid concern because a lot of people who are currently on the waiting list to get into the hospital have been arrested for crimes related to their homelessness,” Cooper said. “They may have already been homeless and have been charged with vagrancy or trespassing. And so yes, I think it’s a risk that they’re homeless and they will be again, but there there’s still no legal or clinical reason – because someone doesn’t have a home, to keep them in jail or to keep them in a mental hospital.”

RELATED: Oregon OSHA Imposes $54,000 Workplace Safety Fine at Oregon State Hospital

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton disagrees with Cooper’s logic. He and two other district attorneys sued to block the judge’s order on new deadlines and lost.

“The first question is, ‘Where are they going?’ Some might say they should go back to jail because that’s where they were before they went to the hospital,” Barton said. “Some might say they shouldn’t go to jail because they have a mental health issue and jail is not a good place for people with mental health issues. So if they go in prison, it’s problematic. If they don’t go to prison and go to the community, it can be problematic depending on the nature of the crime that the person has committed.

“For example, in Washington County, we’ve gone through our list of people at the state hospital right now, and we have three people who are facing murder charges. Two of those people are overdue. a year that’s now being imposed. So depending on how it works, it’s entirely possible that we’ll have people charged with murder, sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse… released in the communities.

Barton explained that because a judge said people charged with these types of crimes have no place in jail, it’s unclear where they might go.

KGW’s Pat Dooris asked why the prison couldn’t just create a designated area for people with mental health issues. Barton said it was an idea, but it wasn’t realistic.

“That’s definitely a solution,” Barton replied. “You could basically create a county hospital to replace what the state hospital does. The question is there are 36 counties in Oregon. How quickly can 36 counties create 36 separate little hospitals to do what the state really should be doing in the first place? And the reality is that it’s not going to happen. Those resources don’t exist in all 36 counties. They may not exist in one county. Because that it takes a big enough push for the counties to do it in such a short time Because we are talking about a matter of weeks, the hospital is planning to get people out suddenly.

Barton said a real solution would be to expand Oregon State Hospital beyond its main campus in Salem and its smaller campus in Junction City, outside of Eugene. He said the state hospital needed more capacity and blamed hospital executives for a lack of leadership, accusing them of ignoring a long-known problem.

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