Legislators finally hear of unchecked increase & expense of criminal defendants at Oregon State Hospital

From the Oregonian, May 29, 2014

Two-thirds of the patients admitted to the Oregon State Hospital last year were criminal defendants admitted under court orders, a legislative panel heard Thursday.

Sixty percent of those patients faced felony charges, and the other 40 percent faced misdemeanors, said Greg Roberts, hospital superintendent. Patients facing relatively minor offenses such as public urination are costing Oregon taxpayers $345,000 a year to treat at the state hospital.

The news didn’t make for happy lawmakers.

“Public urination?” asked a dismayed Rep. Carolyn Tomei, D-Milwaukie, chairwoman of the interim House Human Services and Housing Committee.

State officials have struggled for years to treat more mentally ill patients in less costly community-based programs. Oregon is also in the middle of a four-year agreement with the federal Justice Department, which examined whether the state provides adequate community mental health programs as alternatives to institutions. A January report found the state lagged far behind in providing community programs.

Criminal defendants admitted under court order are often referred to as “370 patients,” shorthand for the statute under which judges can admit them to the hospital for treatment. The goal is to treat them so they’re competent to “aid and assist” in their criminal defense.

The hospital can keep 370 patients for up to three years, or the maximum sentence that could have been imposed if the defendant was found guilty, whichever is shorter.

The number of 370 patients has risen from 88 in January 2010 to 151 last month. The increase requires adding a new unit for 370 patients every six months, Roberts said.

“This trend is unsustainable,” he said. “We just don’t have the ability to do that, but that’s what’s been happening over the last few years.”

Those patients are also more likely to assault hospital staff — an ongoing problem at the hospital — and to face seclusion as a result, Roberts said.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of community mental health programs to serve those in need, Roberts said.

“Any absence of community programs and services to help restore a person to the ability to aid and assist (in the defense), then the only option becomes the state hospital,” he said.

Lawmakers pledged to revisit the topic during September meetings.

House Interim Committee On Human Services and Housing, 2013
Meeting Details 5/29/2014 8:00 AM, HR D

Members – Carolyn Tomei, David Gomberg, Andy Olson, Joe Gallegos, Sara Gelser, Vic Gilliam, Alissa Keny-Guyer, Ann Lininger, Gene Whisnant, Gail Whitsett.

Meeting log – transcripts of testimony – have not yet been uploaded.

Update on Agreement with United States Department of Justice – presentation by Pam Martin, Director of the Oregon Health Authority’s Addictions and Mental Health Division.

Increase in Oregon’s “Aid and Assist” Population – testimony by Cheryl Ramirez, Executive Director Association of Oregon Community Mental Health Programs.

No title. Subject: “Aid and Assist” – presentation by Greg Roberts, Superintendent of the Oregon State Hospital.

Differential Response Strengthening, Preserving and Reunifying Families – Implementation of SB 964Lois Day, Child Welfare Director; Stacy Lake, Differential Response Manager.

Investment in the Mental Health System, letter from Amanda Marshall of the the U.S. Department of Justice to John Dunbar of the Oregon Department of Justice, January 2014.

Interim Report to the State of Oregon – Integration of Community Mental Health and Compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act , report from the U.S. Department of Justice, January 2014.