Oregon psychiatric hospital must limit defendants’ stays

Oregon psychiatric hospital must limit defendants’ stays
Oregon psychiatric hospital must limit defendants’ stays

Associated Press/Report for America

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Oregon State Hospital must limit how long it can hold patients charged with crimes, in an effort to create space in the hospital. overcrowded hospital for criminal defendants who need mental health treatment but are housed in jails.

The psychiatric hospital in the state capital, Salem, does not have enough staff or enough space to add more beds, but 73 defendants are currently in jail awaiting mental health treatment mandated by court before they can stand trial, according to court documents.

The historic hospital – the setting of Ken Kesey’s acclaimed novel ‘Flight Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and where the award-winning film adaptation was filmed – has struggled for years with staff and backlogs of patients.

The ruling Monday by U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman limits hospital stays to three months for those charged with misdemeanors, six months for felony charges and one year for violent crimes, including murder and rape. He is seeking to speed up discharges from hospitals to free up more beds for incoming defendants who need treatment, but some prosecutors fear he may prematurely release patients who have not yet been tried in untried communities. equipped to deal with them.

The situation in Oregon is emblematic of a national crisis facing mental health hospitals.

Staffing shortages in states from Arizona to Missouri to Michigan have forced providers to close psychiatric beds or entire mental health wards, diminishing the nation’s ability to treat patients in need of care.

In an effort to address the problem, Michigan lawmakers in July approved a budget that includes $325 million for a new state mental institution and about $58 million to create more beds at Michigan’s only children’s mental hospital. the state.

In Oregon, this week’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland by Disability Rights Oregon, an advocacy group, and Metropolitan Public Defender, a criminal defense law firm in non-profit. Both groups, citing a “constitutional crisis,” asked the court to take action to enforce a previous federal court order requiring the hospital to admit the defendants in a timely manner.

The 2002 order, resulting from a lawsuit also filed by Disability Rights Oregon, required the state hospital to admit defendants within seven days of their referral to a court.

But the hospital has struggled in recent years to meet that admissions window, and staffing shortages resulting from the coronavirus pandemic have made matters worse. The defendants “suffering from acute mental illness” spent months in jail in violation of that order, the plaintiffs said in court documents filed last week.

Average wait times from early to mid-August reached 38 days, among the longest ever.

“Their experience of waiting in jail can be horrific,” said Jesse Merrithew, the attorney representing the Metropolitan Public Defender. “Because of their mental illnesses, they exhibit behaviors that prisons will punish.”

Emily Cooper, legal director of Disability Rights Oregon, said this week’s decision recognizes “the value of each patient’s life and the authority of a court to uphold the constitution.”

New limits on defendants’ hospital stays mean about 100 patients are now eligible for discharge, Oregon State Hospital spokeswoman Amber Shoebridge said in an emailed statement.

Patients will be released gradually over the next six months and returned to their home county, where a court or community health provider will determine placement. Some may be transferred to local treatment centers while others may return to the county jail, Shoebridge said.

The state hospital will give counties 30 days notice before a patient is discharged.

The hospital, which is overseen by the Oregon Health Authority, did not oppose the motion.

But three district attorneys in suburban Portland and Salem counties say the ruling threatens public safety and hurts victims.

Mosman granted their request to intervene in the case and gave them until January to monitor the defendants’ release and hospital admission data.

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton told The Associated Press the decision could trigger a “cascade of unintended consequences.”

“When these people who are in the hospital reach these expiration dates of 90, 180 and 365 days, they are just sent back to the counties with no real plan for what happens next,” said Barton, whose county includes affluent suburbs to the west. from Portland.

Small, rural counties often lack the mental health resources that larger, urban counties can provide and may not be able to adequately treat patients released to their communities, Barton said.

The plaintiffs’ request to cap defendants’ hospital stays at three, six or 12 months depending on the charges against them was based on a court-ordered review of public hospital admissions.

Last year, the court appointed an independent expert to study the hospital’s capacity problems and recommend solutions. The expert report released in June estimated that the caps could bring the hospital back into line with admissions wait times by February.


Claire Rush is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues. Follow Claire on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ClaireARush.

. psychiatric hospital Oregon must limit the stays of the accused

. Oregon psychiatric hospital limit defendants stays

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