State High Court Hears Pyschiatric Boarding Case

Jun 26, 2014

Parking mentally ill patients in the ER is controversial yet common. Now the state Supreme Court is considering whether that’s constitutional.

Parking mentally ill patients in the ER is controversial yet common.
Credit Taber Andrew Bain / Flickr

Last July a Pierce County court ruled the practice violated state law. Jay Geck, lawyer for DSHS, wants the high court to overturn that ruling.

In arguments Thursday, Geck argued the alternative would be to send patients home where they could potentially harm themselves.

He says patients are safer in the ER because it’s equipped to handle these types of situations.

“We know in a hospital you have a nurse, you have an emergency room physician, you have consultation with a designated mental health proceedings, within two to three days these people were transferred," Geck said. "This is the beginning of stabilization.”

The problem is where to transfer them. There aren’t enough beds in psychiatric facilities. Jennifer Sweigert represents the 10 patients who were detained in Pierce County.

“Civil commitment for purposes of providing mental health treatment is only permissible so long as that treatment is actually provided,” Sweigert said. “The recipe is simple: no treatment, no commitment."

Under state law, patients are supposed to get mental evaluation and treatment within 72 hours. But in reality patients have to wait for days until a bed frees up to begin treatment.

Copyright 2014 KUOW