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Judge extends discharge deadlines for Oregon State Hospital patients

Federal case keeps mentally ill people from getting stuck in jail without treatment, but local officials remain concerned
Oregon State Hospital in Salem, Oregon, on Nov. 21, 2023. | JAKE THOMAS/THE LUND REPORT
December 26, 2023

A controversial court order setting discharge deadlines for most Oregon State Hospital patients will stay in place for another year after a mental health expert and some advocates argued it’s still needed to ease a bottleneck at the psychiatric facility

U.S. Judge Michael Mosman on Christmas Eve extended his earlier order mandating timelines for the treatment of patients accused of crimes who are not considered competent to “aid and assist” in their defense. Mosman also again swatted down an attempt by Marion County to challenge the order. 

Mosman’s decision is  the latest development in decades-old litigation intended to keep people from languishing in local jails without treatment. In recent years the case has shifted focus to the Salem-based hospital, which treats people with severe mental health challenges. 

Issued in September 2022, Mosman’s order limited aid-and-assist patients’ stay at the state hospital from 90 days to a year, depending on the severity of the charges. 

Emily Cooper and Jesse Merrithew, respective attorneys for advocacy group Disability Rights Oregon and Metropolitan Public Defender Services, asked Mosman in a filing last week to extend his order, which was set to expire at the end of the year. They argued that the mandate was working and the state hospital was in compliance with a 2002 court order requiring it to admit aid-and-assist patients from jail within seven days. 

However, the filing stated that if Mosman let his order lapse, the state hospital “would almost immediately fall back out of compliance.” The filing from the two groups pointed to the most-recent report from Dr. Debra Pinals, a University of Michigan professor, hired to help bring the state into compliance. 

Pinals wrote in her report that the order has been working since mid-July, but the state hospital’s compliance with the seven-day admission requirement remained fragile.

“Even with the Order in place, compliance appears to be hovering in the balance with just a (slight increase in admissions) potentially tipping the state out of compliance,” she wrote. 

However, Pinals acknowledged that “there have been downstream consequences that are significant.” She wrote that more people are leaving the state hospital without having been “restored” and are ending up in community programs. Pinals also noted concerns from local judges, prosecutors and county officials about the “increasing strain on community systems” from Mosman’s order. 

Officials in Marion County, home to the state hospital, have been among the most outspoken critics of Mosman’s order, arguing that there aren’t enough local resources for the increase in released patients. Mosman in October issued a sharply worded ruling in response to Marion County’s request to recommit defendants back to the state hospital who’ve already reached their limit. Multnomah County officials have attributed problems to Mosman's order as well.

Jane Vetto, Marion County legal counsel, last week asked Mosman to schedule time to file a response opposing an extension of his order. However, Mosman denied her motion three days after she filed it, while approving the motion to extend his earlier order. His decision was noted in the federal court records portal, PACER, but was not accompanied by a written decision laying out his reasoning.

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