UPDATE (1:50 p.m. PT) – Attorneys for a current patient at the Oregon State Hospital said Wednesday that their client intends to sue, after languishing for weeks in jail while waiting to access mental health services.
"Our client experienced a severe deterioration in his mental state during his long wait for transfer and treatment," said attorney Juan Chavez, who is project director at the Oregon Justice Resource Center.
The tort claim sent to the state Wednesday stems from the case of Carlos Zamora-Skaar. Last December he was arrested on a felony burglary charge while undergoing a severe mental health crisis, according to court documents. Zamora-Skaar was sent to the Washington County Jail.
Weeks after his arrest, a judge ordered a psychological evaluation at the Oregon State Hospital. But according to his attorney in the burglary case, months came and went and Zamora-Skaar still sat in jail. According to the tort claim, his mental health deteriorated, and he wasn't admitted to the Oregon State Hospital until May 8 — around five months after his arrest.
In 2002, a federal judge found Oregon can’t keep people in county jails for more than seven days if a state court judge has found they need to be at the state’s psychiatric hospital.
Earlier this year, the Oregon State Hospital was sued in federal court over admission delays and being out of compliance with the long standing federal court order. The hospital has since returned to compliance. That's in part because of legislation that went into effect July 15, which makes it more difficult for a judge to send inmates to state care, essentially shifting a segment of the population that had been going to the Oregon State Hospital back to counties where resources are scarce.
Chavez said Zamora-Skaar's case shows a need for more community based health programs.
"We have to look at how we deliver mental health in our state courts more broadly," he said.
The tort claim outlines a months long ordeal where Zamora-Skaar tried to first get a psychological evaluation to determine if he could aid in his own defense, as well as efforts by a Washington County judge to get Zamora-Skaar sent to the hospital.
"All throughout this ordeal, Mr. Zamora-Skaar suffered intense mental decompensation," the tort claim states. "The Washington County Jail, as an institution not of healing but of punishment and discipline, could not provide the type of treatment that the [Oregon State Hospital] is mandated by law to provide."
The tort claim also says Zamora-Skaar's delays in treatment amount to "tortuous acts" and attorneys plan to file a civil lawsuit over what they argue are his false imprisonment, unlawful violation of due process, and cruel and unusual punishment.
Rebeka Gipson-King, a spokesperson for the Oregon State Hospital, said they've "worked diligently" to admit people who need hospital level care.
“The Oregon Health Authority remains committed to partnering with counties and local courts to ensure every person in Oregon who needs mental health care has timely access to treatment in their own community or, when necessary, at the state hospital," Gipson-King said in a statement.
A lawsuit is expected to be filed within the next several months.