Wednesday, November 26, 2008

L.A. County mental health chief says he will try to rely less on police

Marvin J. Southard's office can't force crowded hospitals to accept its emergency patients, so it sends them to law enforcers who can. He tells county supervisors he's looking for other options.
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
November 26, 2008
Los Angeles County's chief mental health official said Tuesday that he is working to reduce the number of times his staff forwards emergency assistance calls involving the mentally ill to police, a practice that has grown over the last year as fewer hospital beds have been available to treat such patients.

Marvin J. Southard, called before the Board of Supervisors after news reports highlighted the problem, told the board he is in talks with county health officials to find better options.

"This issue is really an issue of indigent care at the county hospitals," Southard told Supervisor Mike Antonovich during questioning. "We contract with private hospitals to provide indigent care, but there are some patients only county hospitals will accept."

Mental health workers have increasingly turned to law enforcement officials to handle emergency calls because hospitals are required by law to take emergency mental health patients transported by police. If a county mental health worker brings people in for treatment, facilities are not compelled to accept them.

As of last month, there were 2,562 beds available for mental health patients in Los Angeles County, records show, and only about 200 of them were at county hospitals, which are required to admit poor and uninsured patients.
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