Wednesday, March 21, 2007

No beds in Oregon

In a recent article, Joseph D. Bloom, M.D. correlates the significant drop in civil commitments in Oregon over the past 20 years to the virtual disappearance of psychiatric inpatient beds. While the number of investigations for civil commitment have more than doubled over the last 20 years (from 3996 to 8315), the number of actual commitments has dropped by a third (1165 to 785). The other dramatic change in Oregon is the number of civil psychiatric beds. The state psychiatric hospital system has a total of 741 beds, of which 307 (41%) are civil beds and 434 (59%) are designated for the forensic system. Dr. Bloom concludes that it is primarily the decrease in available beds that has resulted in reduced inpatient commitments rather than a reduced need for commitment. Based on his analysis, he warns that:

The use of civil commitment as a method of diverting individuals from the criminal justice system to the mental health system has been replaced by diversion from one part of the criminal justice system to another, from jails to mental health courts. Reversing this trend toward criminal justice sanctions will take a concerted effort to restore civil commitment to a meaningful place in the mental health system.

Criminal justice professionals should heed Dr. Bloom’s warning if they don’t want to see their jobs permanently transformed into being mental health professionals. Law enforcement and corrections officials should be advocating the restoration of a meaningful civil commitment system, both inpatient and outpatient.

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