DeWine wants more state psych beds open for violent patients

Gov. Mike DeWine’s 17-point plan to address gun violence includes changing how and why people are placed in state psychiatric hospitals — so that more beds are available to people who could be threatening violence or suicide.

On any given day, about 97 percent of the state’s 1,065 beds in its six psychiatric hospitals are occupied, including hundreds of beds taken by people being restored to competency so they can face misdemeanor non-violent criminal charges.

“We have a problem in this state. We have a problem with people who are not violent who have been sent there by a court who could be sent some place else. These individuals are occupying space that we urgently need today,” DeWine said last month.

DeWine called on lawmakers to create a new community-based misdemeanor competency restoration process. Under a new system, courts would be allowed to send people to less restrictive treatment centers.

Working with criminal justice and mental health experts, state Sen. Theresa Gavarone, R-Bowling Green, is pushing legislation that would give courts an alternative to sending non-violent misdemeanor defendants to state psychiatric hospitals.

Under Senate Bill 58, when appropriate, courts could send people to treatment at outpatient programs.

“We want to get people better and connect them to sources and make sure those state hospital resources are there for the people who need them the most,” Gavarone said.

Terry Russell, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Ohio, said in written testimony supporting the bill that his organization has advocated for fixing this problem for more than a decade.

Russell said it’s a trifold problem: people are in high-level hospital beds who need treatment but don’t need a lock-down facility; in misdemeanor cases, people restored to competency are released without being connected to ongoing treatment; those who can’t be restored to competency are released without being connected to treatment services.

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In June 2008, ex- Gov. Ted Strickland’s administration closed two state psychiatric hospitals, including Twin Valley Behavioral Healthcare’s Dayton campus, which was a 110-bed facility on Wayne Avenue. The closures were done to help balance the state budget.

Even more than a decade later, critics say the move left a huge gap in the region for people with serious mental illness and their families.

Local private hospitals are seeing more patients seek treatment because they can’t get into a state psychiatric hospital; county jail administrators say their jails have become de facto psych wards; and local patients who do get a state bed receive treatment in Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo or elsewhere.

“With diminished behavioral health resources in Dayton, we have seen an increase in the number of violent and forensic patients on our inpatient unit as well as in our community. This often requires us to have to adapt the unit environment, leading to restricted access to inpatient beds for the non-forensic patients,” said Dr. Christina Waite, medical director, Miami Valley Hospital.

Fixing how state psychiatric beds are used is in DeWine’s 17-point plan to address gun violence, following the Aug. 4 mass shooting in Dayton’s Oregon District.

Related: Can DeWine get his gun reforms through the Legislature?

DeWine has also pledged to back a “safety protection order” law, also known as a red flag law, to allow police or family members to seek a court order to seize weapons from those deemed to be an imminent danger to themselves or others.

Conceivably, those dangerous people could be sent to a state psychiatric hospital for treatment — provided beds are available.

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