• Last modified 3875 days ago (Dec. 10, 2008)


No beds, no options

service from Prairie View with mentally ill prisoners

Managing editor

“We were wrong and we admit we were wrong.”

Those were the words said Monday by a Prairie View representative during a Marion County Commission meeting.

The discussion began when Marion County Attorney Susan Robson expressed her frustration with the county’s community mental health provider. She said law enforcement officers within the county and her office staff had experienced less than adequate service when asking for assistance with mentally ill prisoners.

One situation in particular occurred Sept. 29 when Marion Police Officer Michael Ottensmeier said an individual was taken into custody who showed signs of mental illness. The prisoner was examined by Karen Wheeler, a nurse practitioner with Marion Family Physicians, and was determined to be in need of psychiatric care.

Ottensmeier said when the call was made at 9:10 p.m. that night, he was told there was no bed space at Prairie View Hospital in Newton. No other action was taken by Prairie View at that time which resulted in Marion police officers keeping watch of the prisoner for 14 hours at St. Luke Hospital.

“It does no good to put them (those with mental illness) in jail,” Ottensmeier said.

“We can’t,” Robson said, relating to state statute requiring mentally ill prisoners to receive treatment rather than confinement.

Eventually the individual was admitted to Larned State Hospital.

“There is a frustration when every time we call (Prairie View in Newton) and we’re told there is no bed space,” Robson said. She continued that she and law enforcement needed direction from the community mental health provider and wasn’t receiving any.

“They (Prairie View personnel) should have been more responsive,” said Jessie Kaye, chief executive officer of Prairie View.

Matt Schmidt, community mental health services director, agreed.

“The screening process should have been done immediately,” he said. “(In this particular incident) our hospital was not the appropriate option but we should have stepped up to provide the appropriate assistance.”

Lance Maley, vice president of inpatient services, said on-site training was being conducted for all staff so this situation would not happen again.

“We failed to educate our staff,” he said, and his department takes responsibility for the situation being discussed.

Wheeler was not at the county meeting but commissioner Dan Holub said she had expressed her frustration with him.

The process

When an individual is arrested and law enforcement is concerned about the mental health of the arrested person, a medical evaluation by a doctor or physician’s assistant is necessary. If the exam indicates the person is in need of psychiatric treatment, the doctor or law enforcement officer calls Prairie View at Newton. Within 15 to 30 minutes, those involved should be informed where to transport the patient/prisoner — to Prairie View or Larned State Hospital.

The question was asked whether it was protocol to transport the patient/prisoner to Newton or have the mental health professional come to the location of the individual to assess the situation. Kaye said most screenings are conducted in hospital emergency rooms.

More clarification was asked regarding the appropriate holding area for someone who may be suicidal. A police station? County jail? Local hospital?

It was determined a clearly defined flow chart would be helpful and Schmidt agreed to provide one to law enforcement and the attorney’s office.

County attorney secretary Karen Hurt commented the only time she gets involved is when law enforcement has a problem receiving the necessary assistance.

“Since 1995, I have been calling Prairie View (during regular business hours) and nine times out of 10, I’ve been told there is no bed space,” she said, with no other options offered.

By state statute, Prairie View is the designated community health provider to Marion County and other neighboring counties. The county commission supports community mental health services with a payment of $62,500 in 2009.

After the meeting, Robson verified there wasn’t an increase in those in need of mental health care but a decrease in assistance from the provider.

Last modified Dec. 10, 2008