Portland study looks into link between mental health, hospitals and criminal justice system

The report by Disability Oregon says Portland-area hospitals rely on the police to arrest and remove patients with mental health conditions who are trying to get care or who have recently been discharged. (KPTV)

A new report released Tuesday morning claims the system is failing, specifically people with mental health issues who are looking to get help at Portland’s hospitals.

The report by Disability Oregon says Portland-area hospitals rely on the police to arrest and remove patients with mental health conditions who are trying to get care or who have recently been discharged.

The 38-page report paints a tough picture of part of what is going on with Portland’s homeless and mental health crisis.

Sarah Radcliffe and other members of Disability Rights Oregon looked at a year’s worth of arrest reports involving trespass at six hospitals in the Portland area.

The reviewed and say the places meant to help were sending people into the criminal justice system. They wanted to know, “do hospitals play a role in displacing people, especially those who are homeless and have behavioral health needs, from the healthcare system and into the criminal justice system?”

“By having people arrested and putting them into the criminal justice system, we are creating more barriers to them getting access to housing, we are creating trauma for the individual and we are sucking resources into that system,” Radcliffe said.

She says even the thought of the study is surprising.

“When we are arresting a 76-year old woman with multiple health problems, that just really shows how strapped our system is that we don’t have any better alternatives to jail for somebody like that,” Radcliffe said.

Legacy Health sent the following statement:

Legacy Health hospitals were founded on a mission of providing health care to all. Our services are available to anyone seeking medical and/or behavioral health services. Our priority is to provide a safe environment for patients, families, and visitors in order for staff to provide the care that is needed. Anyone who is a threat to safety, or anyone acting in a way contrary to a safe, healing environment by demonstrating violent or unruly behavior will be asked to leave the premises, and a trespass may be issued. We acknowledge the multitude of challenges surrounding the health of people in our community. By living our mission, we address those issues which extend outside of our facilities such as the lack of affordable housing for individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges. One example of our commitment to reducing homelessness is our involvement with the Housing is Health initiative.

Providence Portland also sent in a statement:

DRO contacted us in January 2018 with concerns about our security responses to patients with behavioral health needs. Since then we have significantly reviewed and revised our processes and procedures.

Those changes include:

· A medical team review to ensure the safety of every patient and all of our caregivers.

· A clear process to appeal a trespass citation.

· A multidisciplinary review committee to ensure we follow our newly revised guidelines.

· The withdrawal of any previously issued trespass citations that do not meet our current standards.

We have also worked harder and more closely with community partners, as well as developing our own programs. As DRO indicated in its report, we are facing a societal issue and we are committed to working together, as a community, for solutions.

It’s important to note that we are seeing the societal issue reflected in a growing number of patients with behavioral health needs in our emergency departments. For example, in 2018, Providence Portland had more than 60,000 emergency department visits. More than 5,000 of those – 8.15% – were behavioral health visits. So far this year, our Providence Portland emergency visits are trending downward slightly, but the number of behavioral health visits is up to 8.4%.

Those patients with behavioral health crises in our emergency department are contacted within 48 hours of discharge by one of our peer support specialists – many of whom have also been in times of need themselves.

Our Mission is to serve the poor and vulnerable, to care for all who come to us in need. To do this, we also must be able to ensure the safety of all patients and all caregivers.

We remain steadfast in our values of justice, dignity, and compassion as we strive to live out our Mission.

Portland police also released a statement:

“Often times, when the PPB is called to address those in (or perceived to be in) crisis, the social systems in place to assist these individuals have already failed,” said Chief Danielle Outlaw, “We remain committed to being a strong partner in addressing the root causes behind what, ultimately, has lead to police being called. As jail is not the solution to treat mental illness, calling the police as first responders 100 percent of the time isn’t either.”

PPB agrees with the recommendations in the report, however, the portion about PPB and the diversion program is not accurate. The program was an MCSO program, which was specific to only two or three ORS crimes (trespass and disorderly conduct being two of them). It was also a voluntary program where we had to have the community member’s consent. Additionally, if the community member had a warrant or any other ORS charge, they were ineligible for the program. PPB wanted the program and was willing to work within the rules of the program.

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