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Citizens Crime Commission addresses mental health crisis in The Oregonian

The Citizens Crime Commission’s Mental Health Task Force recently published an opinion editorial in The Oregonian about how the City of Portland’s crisis system responds to people in mental health crisis.

To gain a better understanding of the city’s crisis system, the task force has participated in a review process, which includes visits to the 911 call-center, ride along’s with police, and discussions with Project Respond clinicians, Police Bureau crisis negotiators, hospital administrators, county mental health officials, sheriffs and police chiefs. Additionally, the commission has participated in the Safer PDX project for the past year and a half, examining real cases involving police and Project Respond calls.

Recently, members of the task force visited the Multnomah County Detention Center, a 448-bed maximum-security adult local correctional facility located in the downtown Justice Center and operated by the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office. The task force learned about how the police book a lawbreaker, and the process inmates go through to receive health services and evaluations. They toured a few areas of the jail, including the floor where acutely psychiatric inmates suffering from psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are kept in single cells, where they are checked on every 15 minutes. Around 30 percent of inmates are identified as having mental illness, predominantly through self report.

The law mandates access to health care in the facility, but the number of health care staff is very small. On the day of their tour, there was a backlog of 62 requests for appointments by inmates with no time slots available through February 17. The health care staff discussed the lack of coordination between hospitals and jails, as hospitals regularly refuse to take mentally ill inmates who are suicidal. The mental health staff confirmed that police officers regularly have to wait several hours at the hospital emergency room in order to get psychiatric help for someone in crisis.

Through this review, the task force gained a sense of the complexity of Portland’s crisis system and its problems. The Commission has discovered a lack of consistent coordination of effort and information-sharing about people experiencing mental health crisis, which often means that Portland Police are responding to 911 calls with very little information about the people they will be providing assistance for. The opinion editorial addresses issues in the crisis response system and offers possible solutions. Read the op-ed.