Outside investigator to review issues over admissions to Oregon state psychiatric hospital

PORTLAND – Oregon health officials and disability advocates have reached an agreement over a dispute over admission to the state’s psychiatric hospital.

Oregon Publication reported in court filings filed Friday, that plaintiffs from the Oregon Disability Rights and Metropolitan Public Defender with the Oregon Health Authority have agreed to external expert consideration of long-standing capacity issues.

Even before the pandemic, many people in the legal system who had mental illness and needed hospital-level care were waiting for that care while in local prisons. Advocates and state health officials say staffing issues, hospital management and an increase in demand have exacerbated the crisis.

Lawmakers and advocates for people with disabilities said the state needs more community-based treatment and housing options to prevent people from reaching a crisis, or to support them as they leave hospital care.

Officials said Dr. Debra Benalls has been appointed as a neutral party to study the hospital and make recommendations on how to mitigate the hospital’s capacity problems. Benalls works for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services as the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs.

Friday’s agreement also limited the amount of time people found guilty except for insanity would have to wait four months for admission.

This fall, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge found the state hospital in contempt twice and ordered fines for not admitting two guilty persons except for insanity.

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