Outside investigator will review capacity issues at Oregon State Hospital

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Dec. 17, 2021 10:28 p.m.

Oregon health officials and disability advocates have reached an agreement on a long running dispute over admission to the state’s psychiatric hospital.

In court records filed Friday, plaintiffs Disability Rights Oregon and Metropolitan Public Defender agreed with the Oregon Health Authority to bring in an outside expert to study long running capacity issues.


Even before the pandemic, many people in the criminal justice system with a mental illness who needed hospital level care spent time waiting in local jails. Staffing issues, hospital management and a surge in demand have exacerbated the crisis, according to the advocates and state health officials. Lawmakers and advocates for people with disabilities have said the state needs more community based treatment and housing options to prevent people from reaching a crisis, or to support them as they leave hospital care.

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore., is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore., is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

Bryan M. Vance / OPB

Friday’s agreement announced the hiring of Dr. Debra Pinals as a neutral party to study the hospital and provide recommendations on how to alleviate the hospital’s capacity problems. Pinals works for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services where she’s the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs.


“She has a research background in the legal regulation of psychiatric practice, law and psychiatry, justice and behavioral health, public mental health services, specialty courts, and jail diversion, among other relevant areas of interest,” the parties agreement states.

Friday’s agreement also capped the amount of time people found guilty except for insanity will wait for admission.

“The parties agree that no individual found Guilty Except for Insanity will wait longer than four months for admission to the Oregon State Hospital,” court records state.

The Oregon State Hospital admits patients from jails to serve longer sentences if a jury finds them guilty except for insanity, though it’s largest patient population is aid and assist defendants. Those are people who have been charged but have an acute mental illness that is preventing them from assisting their attorney in their own criminal defense.

This fall, a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge found the state hospital in contempt twice, and ordered fines for failing to admit two people who were guilty except for insanity. One man waited in jail for nine months before a federal judge ordered both men admitted last month, saying the men had been “unconstitutionally jailed” and deprived of their rights. At the time, nearly two dozen others statewide deemed guilty except for insanity were waiting to get into the hospital.

Last month, the hospital opened 24 long-awaited beds at its Junction City campus for patients found guilty except for insanity. An additional 24 beds in Junction City are expected to be available next year. Funding for those beds was part of a larger $350 million package state lawmakers passed this year to address mental health and treatment.

For almost two decades, the Oregon State Hospital was under a court order to admit aid and assist patients within seven days of a judge ordering admission. A federal judge temporarily relaxed that order during the pandemic.

Pinals’ first report on the Oregon State Hospital is due at the end of January.


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The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Ore., is pictured on Thursday, June 27, 2019.

Judge increases fines, pressure on Oregon State Hospital as it fails to admit defendants

In an unusual move, the Multnomah County Circuit Court judge found the Oregon State Hospital in contempt of a previous contempt order for failing to transport two defendants from the Multnomah County Jail who were found guilty except for insanity. The two men have been waiting for admission for months and now fines have increased to $2,500 per day, per defendant as long as they wait in jail.