An outside expert will examine the overcrowding at an Oregon hospital that has caused the state’s largest psychiatric facility to turn some patients away until beds can be opened.
Under a settlement reached Friday, the Michigan Health Agency’s medical and behavioral health official will conduct a review of the Oregon hospital and make recommendations to bring the state back into compliance with previous court orders providing for expedited admission. The state has delayed admissions for nearly two years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The state has entered into a settlement with the Oregon and Metropolitan Public Disability Advocacy Group, requiring the psychiatric hospital to undergo an outside expert review to address the delayed admissions process the hospital has been using for nearly two years.
The Oregon disability advocacy group and Metropolitan Public Defenders, which sued the state over the delays, said they hope the review will be a major step in reviewing Oregon’s troubled behavioral health system, which has struggled to accommodate patients in both institutional and community care settings. . .
Under a 2002 court order, the hospital must admit patients accused of crimes but unable to help defend themselves within seven days of those findings. But early in the pandemic, a federal judge paused that order until the hospital could limit the spread of COVID-19 and quarantine patients. Mental health advocates have criticized hospital delays, saying they violate patients’ constitutional rights to “help and help”.
Emily Cooper, legal director of Disability Rights Oregon, said her organization began working with the state on the agreement in October, two months before the court order that allowed for delays expired.
“This is an example of where we should work together to solve problems, not fight over whether the problem exists,” she said.
In a written statement Friday, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said he was encouraged by the agreement and hoped it would help get more people into the state hospital in a reasonable amount of time.
“We all want to decriminalize mental illness in Oregon and give people with serious mental illness treatment in a hospital bed, not confinement in a cell if they haven’t committed a serious crime,” Allen said. “The Oregon State Hospital cannot solve the capacity crisis on its own.”
The state hospital has faced a series of problems during the pandemic, including increased complaints from staff and patients about assault and discrimination, as well as a staff shortage that prompted the state to call in the National Guard twice over the summer to staff the hospital.
Under the new agreement, the hospital will be subject to a review by Dr. Debra Benalls, medical director for behavioral health and forensic programs at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Pinals will report by January 31, making some short-term recommendations for getting the hospital in accordance with its admissions order.
By April 29, Pinals should make long-term recommendations. If the parties agree to the recommendation, the Oregon Health Authority will implement the plan and submit monthly progress reports to Binals.
Cooper said she hopes the short-term recommendations will include plans to fund behavioral health services and referral immediately. She said it would help keep people out of prison and hospital in the first place.
In the longer term, she said, she hopes the review will look at possible solutions to expand community housing for mental health patients.
Cooper said Pinals has already begun interviewing state employees and is reviewing documents and records related to hospital capacity problems.
She said Pinals was chosen to do the review because of her track record of leading behavioral health services in Michigan.
“They don’t have a waiting list. The state hospital has not called in the National Guard. They are not under federal oversight,” Cooper said. “This is someone who, in a practical way, has been able to provide timely services to people in her state. We hope it will lead us to a similar outcome in our state.”
The court agreement also states that the plaintiffs in the 20-year-old court order at the root of the admission requirements will not sue the hospital during this time, giving the hospital a grace period to comply with the admission requirements.
– Jayati Ramakrishnan