In a ruling issued Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Mosman declined to find the state in contempt of a longstanding federal court order that dictates admissions for people with mental illnesses at the Oregon State Hospital.
Mosman’s ruling comes despite the state being out of compliance and over the objections of mental health advocates currently suing the Oregon Health Authority, which oversees the hospital, because of the delays.
Earlier this week, attorneys with Metropolitan Public Defender and Disability Rights Oregon argued in federal court that the Oregon State Hospital was in violation of a 2002 federal court order, which says mentally ill defendants found unable to aid in their own defense must be admitted to the hospital with seven days.
“The court makes no current finding of contempt, but will revisit this issue at a compliance hearing to be scheduled approximately 90 days from the date of this order,” Mosman wrote.
The state has acknowledged the delay. Currently, it’s taking the hospital about 20 days to admit people, leaving dozens of inmates with severe mental illnesses languishing in county jails.
During this week’s hearing, Oregon Health Authority Director Patrick Allen said he expects the state to be compliant within 90 days.
Throughout the hearing, Mosman was focused more on long term solutions rather than taking punitive actions.
Mosman said at the compliance hearing that he expects an update on bills currently in the Legislature aimed at improving community-based mental health programs as well as reducing the number of patients going to the hospital.
He said also wants to hear about the state’s efforts to get patients no longer in need of hospital level care to be released and placed elsewhere.
Finally, Mosman said he wants a report on the Oregon Health Authority’s efforts to expand “community-based aid and assist services” and its efforts to place some patients at the Northwest Re-Entry Center.
Attorneys with DRO and Metropolitan Public Defender had asked Mosman to find the state in contempt. Attorneys with the Oregon Department of Justice said the state couldn’t be found in contempt because it had taken all reasonable actions to comply with the order.
“We are very disappointed as the court’s order does nothing to end the suffering of those held in jail cells around the state without justification,” said Jesse Merrithew, the attorney for Metropolitan Public Defender. “We are evaluating all of our options, but in the meantime, we encourage the victims and families of those harmed to seek counsel and file their own lawsuits for compensation for their injuries.”