Psychiatric Patients Entitled to Treatment, Not Warehousing, Advocates Tell State Supreme Court

News Release: 
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sandi Ando, Ntl. Alliance on Mental Illness, WA Public Policy Committee Chair, 509.385.3026
Doug Honig, ACLU of WA Communications Director, 206.624.2184  
Emily Cooper, Disability Rights WA Staff Attorney, 206.324.1521 ext. 214

SEATTLE – Advocates for psychiatric patients have filed a friend of the court brief with the Washington Supreme Court urging it to uphold a trial court ruling invalidating a practice called “boarding” – holding civil commitment patients in hospital emergency rooms unable to provide adequate treatment.  The brief was filed by statewide mental health, disability rights, and civil liberties organizations.

The patients in this case (In re Detention of DW et al.) were involuntarily detained in emergency rooms for days, often with little or no psychiatric care.  In June 2013, a Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled this practice is illegal since the law requires that the patients be held in certified evaluation and treatment facilities which are capable of providing the treatment needed by the patients. The Washington Supreme Court recently agreed to review the ruling, and oral argument will occur on June 26, 2014.

“It violates the law and patient rights to detain individuals with mental illness against their will because they need treatment and then not provide the necessary treatment,” said Sandi Ando, NAMI Washington’s Public Policy Committee Chair.

Twenty percent of patients committed under the state’s civil commitment law, the Involuntary Treatment Act, are being boarded, often at locations like general hospital emergency rooms without appropriate treatment, according to a recent report by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy (WSIPP).  The WSIPP report also found that the problem of psychiatric boarding in emergency rooms swelled to nearly 200 per month in 2010. 

“Civil commitment is a significant deprivation of liberty, one that requires providing treatment and not warehousing in facilities incapable of providing the needed treatment,” said Nancy Talner, a staff attorney for the ACLU of Washington.

“The Government would have you believe there are two options – leave people with mental illness on the street with no treatment or lock them in a local emergency room with no treatment,” said Emily Cooper, staff attorney with Disability Rights Washington.  “That simply isn’t true. The law requires that when someone is detained in order to deliver treatment, adequate treatment must be delivered, and that’s what this brief lays out for the court.”

Related links: 

Inpatient Psychiatric Capacity in Washington State: Assessing Future Needs and Impacts

A Literature Review: Psychiatric Boarding

Prior coverage:

Boarding’ mentally ill becoming epidemic in state

Washington judge outlaws ‘parking’ mentally ill

No vacancy, no excuse for Western State to deny care