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Consultant suggests fixes for Oregon State Hospital admission woes

The advisor from the Michigan Department of Health was hired to evaluate the state-run psychiatric hospital's admissions problems.
Credit: AP
Oregon State Hospital

PORTLAND, Ore. — A consultant hired as part of a legal settlement released the first of two reports for the Oregon State Hospital to temporarily ease a crisis of slow admissions and overwhelmed capacity. 

Dr. Debra Pinals, a behavioral health director from the Michigan Department of Heath and Human Services, was brought in after Disability Rights Oregon and Metropolitan Public Defender agreed with Oregon Health Authority to bring in an outside expert to study capacity issues that have plagued the hospital for years. 

Disability Rights Oregon said the hospital has failed to quickly admit patients who have been found unable to appear in court on their own defense. According to the organization, those patients are deteriorating in jail without the mental health services they need. Disability Rights Oregon alleged that is a violation of the patients' civil rights. 

The 20-page report, released after Pinals spoke with more than 20 state hospital administrations and six patients, recommends making more efforts to discharge or avoid the admission of patients who don't need hospital-level care. It also suggests using space at the hospital's recently opened Junction City unit to house newly-admitted patients and track patient admissions through a uniform data system.

The system the doctor recommends would include a dashboard detailing the numbers of patients waiting for admission, their legal status and how long they've been waiting. 

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According to Pinals, the hospital should examine why community health services unnecessarily send people to the hospital and push for legislation that requires better community-based mental health treatment services in each county.  

Disability Rights Oregon's managing attorney K.C. Lewis called the report an important first step to bring the hospital into compliance with a 2002 court order that mandates timely admission for patients if they cannot participate in their own defense. 

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“The problems at the state hospital are a symptom of our society’s overreliance on the criminal justice system to deal with people with mental illness,” Lewis said. “These recommendations are an excellent starting place, but solving this problem in the long-term is going to require policymakers who are willing to have difficult conversations and make bold choices about what kind of system we want to have.” 

A second report from Pinals with long-term fix recommendations is due April 29.

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