State Hospital puts up ‘no vacancy’ sign for civil commitments

Oregon State Hospital Salem Reporter/file

The Oregon State Hospital is suspending all civil admissions until Dec. 27 to prioritize patients ordered by courts to receive competency restoration treatment. 

The halt on civil commitments was announced in a letter Monday, Dec. 16, to the hospital’s statewide partners. It is effective immediately.

According to hospital spokeswoman Rebeka Gipson-King, the move is intended to help the hospital comply with a 2003 federal court ruling that requires criminal defendants ordered to receive treatment so they can meaningfully aid and assist in their own trial be admitted within seven days of a judge’s signature. 

“We wanted to make sure that we were still able to meet our legal obligations to the people who are coming in under aid and assist within the seven days,” she said. 

Gipson said hospital administrators chose Dec. 27 for the suspension to expire because that’s when they feel the hospital will be able to start reaccepting civil admissions and not be in danger of violating the seven-day rule.

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The state hospital was sued early this year by advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon for not complying with the rule. In 2018, more than 200 patients had to wait longer than seven days, a problem which hospital administrators said was caused by an unforeseen influx of aid and assist patients the facility wasn’t equipped to handle.

Gipson-King said the suspension of civil admissions would force local hospitals and psychiatric care units to hold patients awaiting civil commitment a little longer than they might have expected. “These are people whom a judge has said they aren’t able to take care of their own basic needs and civilly commits them to the Oregon Health Authority, so they’re already on a waitlist to get into the state hospital,” she said. “They’re already in an acute care hospital with staff trained to meet their needs as opposed to our (aid and assist) population who we’re also trying to accommodate.”

The number of civil patients awaiting admission to the state hospital has grown throughout 2019, from 15 in January, to 43 as of Monday, Dec. 16. 

Melissa Eckstein, president of the Unity Center for Behavioral Health at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland, said in a statement that her organization is in conversations with Oregon Health Authority and state hospital leaders to address needs for improved access to behavioral health care throughout the region.

Eckstein said changes are need to provide faster, more comprehensive care for patients.

“This situation has a huge impact on operations at Unity Center for Behavioral Health. More than 25% of our current adult patients are waiting for a bed at the Oregon State Hospital,” Eckstein wrote. “The lack of capacity at OSH is creating a patient flow crisis within Unity Center’s Psychiatric Emergency Services and long delays for patients who urgently need acute hospitalization for their safety and well being.”