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Judge again rejects hospital lawsuit over psychiatric patient boarding

Four hospital systems, which provide a majority of Oregon’s psychiatric beds, indicated they are “assessing their options”
The west plaza at Oregon State Hospital in Salem. | COURTESY OREGON HEALTH AUTHORITY
July 13, 2023

Four of Oregon’s largest health systems must continue to board patients who’ve been civilly committed while experiencing mental illness, after a judge rejected the hospitals’ attempt to revive a lawsuit against state officials.

U.S. Judge Michael Mosman on Wednesday denied a motion from Legacy Health, Providence Health and Services, PeaceHealth and St. Charles Health System to reconsider a revised version of their lawsuit. 

First filed in December, the health systems alleged in the lawsuit that the Oregon Health Authority is failing to provide meaningful treatment to civilly committed patients and is instead forcing hospitals to board them for extended periods of time despite being unable to provide adequate care. 

The suit did not ask for past damages, but asked for an injunction to force the state to cover the cost of boarding the patients and expand non-hospital treatment facilities.

The outcome comes in contrast to a recent ruling in New Hampshire where a federal judge took action to halt emergency department boarding in hospitals, limiting mental health patients’ time there to no more than six hours.

The Oregon health systems declined an interview request fromThe Lund Report concerning what the lawsuit’s failure means for their operations. They issued a joint statement expressing disappointment in the order and indicating they “are assessing their options.”

“The hospitals filed their case to advocate for the right of people with mental illness to receive treatment in the most appropriate setting and to hold the state accountable for its legal responsibilities to those individuals,” reads the statement. “Today’s decision does nothing to address these issues and fundamentally misunderstands the dynamics of Oregon’s mental health system.”

The four hospital systems together provide nearly 60% of inpatient beds in Oregon, according to an earlier filing. The legal setback comes as Oregon hospitals continue to report that expenses have outstripped revenues and that patients are staying longer.

A recent report by Apprise Health Insights found that more than two-thirds of Oregon’s hospitals lost money in the first quarter of 2023. It also found that in the first quarter of 2023, the average length of stay at Oregon hospitals was around 5.64 days. That’s higher than the 4.5 to 4.7 day average before the pandemic. 

The hospitals argued late last month that Mosman erred when he dismissed their lawsuit. The health authority and Disability Rights Oregon have opposed the lawsuit on grounds that the hospitals don’t have legal standing and that they voluntarily agreed to take civilly committed patients. 

Mosman, however, rejected the hospitals’ request for an opportunity to refile the lawsuit to respond to those arguments, agreeing with opposition filed by the state of Oregon and the group Disability Rights Oregon.

“There has been neither any newly discovered evidence, nor an intervening change in the controlling law,” Mosman wrote in his order Wednesday. “And Health Systems' arguments have been previously raised and rejected in prior briefing and at oral argument, showing no clear error.”

You can reach Jake Thomas at [email protected] or via Twitter @jakethomas2009.