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News Release
9th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Hospital Systems' Lawsuit Accusing State of Oregon of Violating the Rights of Patients with Severe Mental Illness - 06/05/24

SEATTLE (June 5, 2024) – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled today that a lawsuit brought by four hospital systems against the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) was wrongfully dismissed. 

Legacy Health, PeaceHealth, Providence Health & Services, and St. Charles Health System filed the lawsuit in September 2022 because the OHA is failing to fulfill its duty to provide adequate access to care for people experiencing severe mental illness. With today’s ruling, the case now returns to the United States District Court for the District of Oregon, where it can continue through the legal process.

The appellate court heard oral arguments on May 8 in Seattle. In the oral arguments, counsel for OHA conceded that the lack of resources for civilly committed individuals is a "long standing, challenging problem that Oregon faces.” Ninth Circuit Judge William Fletcher responded that "it's a challenge because Oregon is not stepping up to the plate."  In the argument, counsel for OHA further conceded that it has an obligation to make to an appropriate placement of civilly committed persons. 

“We’re pleased with the court’s decision, and we’re optimistic that this lawsuit will result in a much-needed course correction from the OHA,” said Melissa Eckstein, President, Unity Center for Behavioral Health. “We originally took this action because the State of Oregon consistently violates the civil rights of vulnerable Oregonians by refusing to provide care intended to restore their freedom.”

Combined, the four hospital organizations operate more than half of the state’s psychiatric beds, which are designed only for short-term acute care. However, civilly committed patients in need of long-term treatment are not being transferred from the hospitals to more appropriate facilities as the law requires. Instead, many of these patients are forced to remain for weeks, months or longer in highly restrictive acute care settings without a treatment plan tailored to meet their mental health care needs.

“Community hospitals are not equipped, staffed or designed to provide long-term mental health care,” said Alicia Beymer, Chief Administrative Officer, PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend. “Despite the previous dismissal of our case, we felt duty-bound to appeal on behalf of the many vulnerable patients who are being denied appropriate care.”

In addition to ensuring civilly committed patients can receive the appropriate level of care, the hospital systems aim to increase access to behavioral health units for individuals experiencing an acute mental health crisis. Earlier this year, the OHA published a report admitting that there is a severe shortage of capacity needed to treat individuals in need of both acute and long-term behavioral health treatment across Oregon.

“The court’s ruling allows us to continue pursuing legal action to ensure that there is a functional mental health system in Oregon,” said Robin Henderson, Chief Executive, Providence Behavioral Health. “Such a system and continuum of care must include secure residential treatment facilities, as well as effective community-based services to meet the various needs of this vulnerable patient population. Oregonians won’t be able to fully realize this system until the state begins living up to its legally mandated role.”

 

 

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