Oregon hospitals try to revive mental health lawsuits, say state violated patients’ rights

Four of Oregon’s largest hospital systems are trying to revive a lawsuit that accuses the state of failing to provide its residents with adequate mental health care.

The hospital groups – Legacy Health, Providence Healthy & Services, PeaceHealth and St. Charles Health System – sued Oregon Health Authority and Oregon State Hospital last September, alleging the two organizations failed to make room for patients admitted through civil commitments who were not charged with a crime but were found to be a danger to themselves themselves or for others, but are not charged with a crime.

Health systems say that, as a result, their medical hospitals are being forced to provide mental health treatment for which they are not prepared.

In May, U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mossman dismissed the lawsuit after the state hospital agreed to expand its admission criteria to civilly bound patients. Shortly thereafter, the hospitals tried to get Mossman to reconsider the case, but he rejected their request.

In a complaint filed Monday, the hospitals said Oregon health authorities “failed” in their responsibility to mentally ill patients.

“Instead of providing and ensuring timely access to appropriate treatment, OHA has adopted a practice of abandoning civilly involved patients in community hospitals,” the hospitals’ lawyers wrote in the appeal, “even though many patients have no medical need to be there.”

Larry Bingham, a spokesman for Oregon health authorities, declined to comment on pending litigation.

The state mental hospital’s failure to accept these patients harms both the patients and the medical hospitals where they end up instead, the appeal said. They said community hospitals aren’t designed or equipped to provide long-term mental health treatment, meaning patients don’t get the help they need and divert resources from other patients.

Melissa Eckstein, president of Legacy-owned Unity Center for Behavioral Health, said patients should instead be in specialized long-term care facilities, such as residential care facilities or Oregon State Hospital.

Although filed separately, the lawsuit overlaps with another ongoing lawsuit filed by the watchdog group Disabled Rights Oregon.

A court order stemming from the advocacy group’s case required the state hospital to admit patients for aid and assistance, or those accused of a crime but found unable to defend themselves, within seven days. The state hospital has struggled to meet that deadline for years, and many patients have languished in jail for months while waiting for psychiatric treatment.

Last year, Mossman, the federal judge, imposed strict time limits on how long those patients could stay at the state hospital to quickly clear the way for new ones.

This decision met with increasing resistance over the next few months. Several district attorneys, counties and judges have filed to join the case, saying the expedited timelines for releasing patients could put their communities at risk because patients could be released before their treatment is complete.

Oregon disability rights attorney Tom Stenson said the community hospitals’ case reveals something of a conflict: While hospitals claim to be acting on behalf of patients, they are also pushing to get them out of their emergency rooms.

But because there aren’t enough residential care facilities to meet the state’s needs, Stenson said, there is currently no viable alternative to hospital care. Until that is corrected, he said, some patients are not getting the treatment they need.

“The fundamental problem is that we have a system that is inadequate to serve the needs of people with disabilities,” he said. “There’s not enough housing, there’s not enough public support for mental health. There are not enough shared resources.”

A judge in Pierce County, Washington, recently ruled against that state in a similar case, ordering the Department of Human and Health Services to immediately evaluate patients with behavioral health problems.

Prosecutors from 22 Washington counties sued the agency for its failure to evaluate and treat defendants whose charges were dropped because they were unable to understand the charges against them.

— Jayati Ramakrishnan; [email protected]

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *