Secretary Admits Mistake, Workgroup Develops Recommendations To Fix It

The lack of available beds in state mental hospitals has individuals court ordered to treatment stuck waiting in local jails until treatment beds open. This has resulted in the Secretary of DHMH to be called into court and for the Department to take action to fix the situation.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

Van T. Mitchell, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was summoned to court to explain why he and five other top department officials should not be held in civil contempt for failing to carry out court orders to admit criminal defendants in a timely manner.

Mitchell said he didn’t get around to addressing the department’s bed problem in time for this year’s 90-day General Assembly session, which ended in April.

“I just made a mistake. I didn’t do it,” Mitchell told retired Circuit Judge Gale Rasin.

Mitchell told the judge that he learned early this year about the extent of the bed shortage at mental health facilities. He noted that he wrote a letter in April to leaders of the judicial branch, telling them the department was in “crisis” and couldn’t admit patients as quickly as the courts were ordering them to be hospitalized.

The secretary said he recognized the department’s legal responsibility to obey judicial orders promptly.

“That’s why I wrote the letter, and that’s why I’ll get it fixed,” he said. Mitchell said he has a work group of health officials, state and local corrections officials and judges seeking solutions.

Mitchell is not alone. As reported on Stateline, a 2014 survey of state mental health directors found that 19 of 38 have been threatened with or found in contempt for failing to timely admit jailed inmates deemed mentally incompetent.

The Sun article notes that Mitchell and the Department have been working to remedy the situation and have cut the wait list in recent months. Lack of staff and low pay are cited as additional challenges they are addressing in addition to lack of space and beds.

A stakeholder group formed by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH) held its final meeting Thursday to discuss draft recommendations to remedy the lack of capacity at state mental hospitals. The draft recommendations are expected to be finalized over the next few weeks and then work will be begin on implementation. For more information on the stakeholder group visit the DHMH Forensic Services Workgroup webpage.

Previous coverage on Conduit Street:

DHMH Workgroup Seeks to Remedy Lack of Criminal Justice Mental Health Beds

Quoted articles:

Maryland Health Chief Says It Was A Mistake Not To Seek More Money For Mental Health Beds  (The Baltimore Sun)

Amid Shortage of Psychiatric Beds, Mentally Ill Face Long Waits for Treatment (Stateline)

The crisis of mentally ill individuals in jail will be discussed at the 2016 MACo Summer Conference session “Mentally Ill and Incarcerated: A Criminal Justice Crisis.” The session will be held from 2:15-3:15 pm, Friday, August 19 at the Roland Powell Convention Center in Ocean City Maryland.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: