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St. Charles joining hospitals’ lawsuit against OHA for creating ‘mismatch’ of services for vulnerable Oregonians

(Update: Adding comments by St. Charles official)

They want action to 'protect civil rights,' build more facilities for civilly committed people

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – In what it calls "a move to protect the civil rights of vulnerable Oregonians," St. Charles Health System said Tuesday it has joined Legacy Health, Providence Health & Services and PeaceHealth in a lawsuit against the Oregon Health Authority, accusing the agency of failing to provide adequate facilities for civilly committed individuals.

Shane Coleman, St. Charles' Clinical Division director of psychiatry & behavioral health at St. Charles, told NewsChannel 21 Tuesday that patients who are “committed,” meaning they meet a threshold of danger to themselves or others, are often stabilized at a community hospital and staying longer than preferred.

“So now, they’re sitting in these community hospitals, where the treatment programs are not designed for weeks-, months-long stays,” Coleman said. “So it’s creating a mismatch for the patient, between what they need for treatment and what they’re receiving.”

The lawsuit, filed in September, aims to ensure the OHA "fulfills its legal obligation to provide adequate mental health treatment capacity for civilly committed individuals," the Bend-based hospital system said.

Coleman said, “It can lead to increased risk for staff and the patient of violence which can harm everybody involved.”

The hospital official emphasized the issue is complex and there's not one simple solution, but more state funding would certainly be helpful.

“Increasing resources through legislative action would certainly be a helpful maneuver,” Coleman said. 

The rest of the hospital's announcement is in full below:

The addition of St. Charles broadens the coalition, bringing representation from the largest health system east of the Cascades.

“Because the state is often refusing to take responsibility for civilly committed patients, we believe this patient population is not getting the care it deserves. The current situation is not good for the patients, our staff or the other patients we serve,” said Dr. Shane Coleman, clinical division director of psychiatry and behavioral health for St. Charles.

“By joining this lawsuit, we hope OHA will hear our concerns and take action to build more capacity to serve these patients in an appropriate health care facility for the level of care they need.”

Under Oregon law, individuals who are a danger to themselves or others may be civilly committed by the state for involuntary treatment for up to 180 days.

Acute care hospitals are often the first stop for many patients who require urgent care and short-term stabilization. Once that is achieved, the state is legally required to place these individuals in a facility that specializes in long-term treatment, such as secure treatment facilities or the Oregon State Hospital, and that can give them the appropriate and necessary care to enable them to regain their liberty.  

Rather than transfer these individuals to an appropriate facility, the state is confining them in community hospitals for weeks or months. Community hospitals are not equipped, staffed or designed to provide long-term mental health treatment.

The behavioral health units in these hospitals are intended to serve the community as acute care facilities where patients in mental health crisis can be evaluated, stabilized and discharged to the next appropriate level of care.

"The Oregon Health Authority has not only failed in its responsibility to its most vulnerable population, but by relying on acute care hospitals, OHA has negatively affected the hospitals’ capacity to care for other patients experiencing acute mental health crises in their communities," the St. Charles announcement said.

"Oregon is in the middle of an unprecedented mental health crisis, and community hospitals are desperately needed to treat and stabilize other vulnerable patients in crisis, many of whom are also struggling with substance abuse disorders and houselessness," the statement concluded.

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