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St. Charles, other Oregon hospitals defend lawsuit, accuse state of denying patients mental health care

KTVZ file

Filing disputes recent OHA motion asking judge to dismiss case

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) — St. Charles Health System and three other large Oregon hospital systems -- Legacy Health, Providence Health & Services and PeaceHealth -- are defending their federal lawsuit, saying they continue to fight for vulnerable patients who are being denied the critical mental health care they need by the state.

The Portland hospital systems said they filed a lawsuit last September in U.S. District Court in Eugene to protect the civil rights of Oregonians suffering from mental illness; St. Charles joined in the action in December.

The hospital groups say their lawsuit seeks to ensure the Oregon Health Authority fulfills its legal obligation to provide adequate mental health treatment for civilly committed individuals.

OHA filed a motion late last month, asking the judge to dismiss the lawsuit. In Thursday’s filing in response, the four hospital systems said they "outline the proper legal principles for the court to consider and call out what they call multiple inaccurate statements made by the Oregon Health Authority in its December filing." 

“Hospitals are taking this action because Oregon must increase capacity for civilly committed patients,” said Robin Henderson, PsyD, chief executive, behavioral health for Providence in Oregon. “Our psychiatric beds are full. We don’t have the ability to serve patients experiencing a mental health crisis because our beds, and our caregivers, must care for civilly committed patients stuck in our hospitals. We’re asking the state to stop using community hospitals as a warehouse for civilly committed patients, and partner with us to fulfill its legal obligation to provide appropriate access to mental health services in the community.”

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. More than 500 individuals with severe mental illnesses are civilly committed to the Oregon Health Authority for treatment each year. 

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

Rather than transfer these individuals to appropriate settings, the hospitals claim that "the state abandons them for weeks or months at a time in community hospitals, which are not appropriate settings for long-term psychiatric care.

"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 provide short-term, high-acuity care where patients in mental health crisis can be rapidly evaluated, stabilized and discharged to the next appropriate level of care," they said. 

“We are taking this action because we need to care for more patients in our hospitals,” said Dr. Shane Coleman, clinical division director for psychiatry and behavioral health services at St. Charles. “We can’t do that currently, because we are devoting beds and caregivers to civilly committed patients who no longer need hospital-level care or need to be in the state hospital. If the state chose to meet its legal obligation to provide care for civilly committed patients, then our local community hospitals could better meet the needs of our communities.”

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