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Marion County files lawsuit against Oregon Health Authority over early releases from Oregon State Hospital

The county argues that the hospital's capacity shortage results in too many people, including violent offenders, being released without access to sufficient care.

SALEM, Ore. — Marion County filed a lawsuit this week against the leaders of the Oregon Health Authority and the Oregon State Hospital, alleging that the state psychiatric hospital's staffing and capacity shortages result in too many people with pending criminal charges in need of behavioral health treatment being released into the community instead of remaining committed the hospital.

The lawsuit names OHA interim director David Baden and OSH superintendent Dolores Matteucci as defendants in their official capacity as the leaders of their respective organizations. The county alleges in its complaint that it has attempted to work with OHA to address its concerns, but only encountered resistance. 

"This action is not something that we take lightly," Marion County Commissioner Colm Willis said in a statement. "We have been trying to solve these issues for a long time. The State needs to fulfill their responsibilities to the individuals needing critical treatment and to the citizens that are paying taxes for them to do the job that the law says is their responsibility."

The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment that OHA has a statutory duty to provide "restoration services sufficient for individuals committed to their custody," as well as an injunction requiring the leaders do "what is necessary" to meet their obligations, listing examples like adding beds, hiring more staff and reforming internal practices.

A news release from the county pointed specifically at the lack of sufficient beds at the hospital, saying that Oregon law only allows the state to provide inpatient restoration care, but asserting that the state has failed to do so, and as a result "sicker and more violent people are being pushed out into the community where their behavioral health restoration needs simply cannot be met."

"Local governments and communities are feeling and seeing the negative impact of the choices being made at the state level and are bearing the brunt of the State’s inability or unwillingness to do what it is legally required to do," Commissioner Danielle Bethell said in a statement.

As noted in the lawsuit, the current situation stems from a federal lawsuit against OHA and OSH when the hospital's wait times for admission began to exceed seven days, in violation of the U.S. Constitution. OHA and OSH agreed to a court order to release people early as part of that case.

For more than a year, OHA and OSH have been discharging patients "regardless of whether a final determination has been made regarding fitness to proceed," according to the complaint. State court has required many of those released to be placed in community restoration services, according to the complaint, tripling the county's caseload and negatively impacting the program.

Some of those released have also been charged with violent crimes, the county alleges, potentially creating public safety risks and putting more pressure on local police forces.

The lawsuit accuses OHA and OSH of having "no intention of taking immediate action" to fix the problems and states that they are "content with simply using the federal court's order to solve problems in the short term without any sort of significant effort to meet their long-term obligations."

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