ANCHORAGE - On June 4, 2011, after a series of frantic 911 phone calls, Byron Syvinski was admitted into the Providence Psychiatric Emergency Department – and released less than 24 hours later. Shortly after, on the 5th, the then-32-year-old man brutally beat a then-7-year-old girl and attempted to steal her bicycle.
In three hours Syvinski called 911 nine times, with the length of the calls ranging from two minutes to over twenty. In each phone call his breathing became harder, his words more frustrated and his thoughts more disoriented.
He talked about paranoia, heart problems, family issues and suicide. “I’m a danger to myself right now,” Syvinski told a dispatcher. “Okay, well, we can help you with that,” she replied.
“I just [expletive]… I’m about to [expletive] jump over this [expletive] thing… jump over this [expletive] railing - hello?” The dispatcher stayed on the line and attempted to calm him.
Before cops arrived to take him into custody, dispatchers asked if he had weapons; he told them yes – himself.
The following day, that weapon almost took the life of young Am-Marie Martin.
It took two men to make Syvinski stop hitting Martin, now eight, in the face.
According to charging documents, police officials believe he was under the influence of the designer drug known as “bath salts.” Police officers described his behavior as “extremely combative” and “dangerous.”
Syvinski has a history of criminal behavior – family violence, dangerous drugs, carrying a concealed weapon, assault and much more.
This event raised several questions about psychiatric care in the community, and why Syvinski wasn’t admitted to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) after being treated at Providence.
Immediately after the assault, Providence Hospital refused to make a statement, but eventually published an emailed press release.
“These patients are provided a thorough assessment for both medical and psychiatric conditions. Based on this evaluation, they are treated and referred as appropriate.”
But even now, Providence remains tight lipped about the situation.
Jury selection for Syvinski’s trial for the assault on Am-Marie is scheduled for Wednesday, July 18.
API is located right next door to Providence Hospital. The lawn is green, the flowers are blooming and the parking lot is full. Some say this is where Byron Syvinski should have been sent – and the following describes what he might have been provided.
There is a private emergency driveway on the right side of the building, somewhat hidden, to ensure the privacy of its possible future patients.
Located in a secure corridor of API is an attempted replica of Main Street USA – a small town feel added to a state of the art facility, where officials are trying to break the social stereotypes for institutions of its nature.
There are wooded park benches outdoors, flowery paintings on white walls and three secure hallways indoors, where patients of all ages are treated. Ninety-nine percent of the patients are there involuntarily, according to API Chief Executive Officer Ron Adler.
There aren’t security officers around every corner, but everything is captured on camera. “It’s a very safe place,” said Adler. “…When we do have an issue, we just call APD, but it is rare.”
The facility has a 10 bed adolescent unit – complete with an Anchorage School District educational unit. The Denali unit is the adult neuro unit, which serves a large array of people, but the care staff often sees elderly residents with severe cases of dementia. And finally there is the Taku unit, where everyone behind the secure door is in custody and unfit to stay in with the general patient population.
There are secure outdoor patios, with metal birds that line the concrete walls, and silver-colored tables where patients can dine and relax.
Just through the visitor entrance of the building is a comfortable sitting area known as “the meditation room” where families can sit, have a coffee, and visit with a loved one. It even accommodates the younger patients, with a miniature dining table and miniature chairs. On Sundays API holds a church service and during the week support groups meet.
There is a large, secure greenhouse where staff members bring patients to garden and relax as a form of therapy.
Located down the Main Street hallway is the dining room. The aroma of fresh lasagna and grilled chicken fills the room with an aroma similar to grandma’s house at dinnertime. During dining hours seven round tables fill up with patients.
Next to the dining room is the life skills learning room, complete with a kitchen. Staff teaches patients the basics of nutritional cooking and how to balance a budget.
The facility has a computer lab where people can email with family, a physical therapy workout room, and a recreational gym. “The Boston Celtics would be proud to play in that gym,” said an enthusiastic Adler. Along with a game of hoops, patients can play volleyball and climb a rock wall.
There is educational health information lining the wall, about everything from cholesterol to diabetes. Adler said in recent years they have become more health conscious.
The facility is like a school -- except for the courtroom.
Behind a wooden podium is an American flag. After being admitted for 72 hours, if deemed necessary, officials from API can request the court have the patient committed for 30 days with medication.
“If a patient is admitted on legal status, and does not meet criteria for this level of acute care, they are discharged with referrals and treatment recommendations.”
According to Adler, API is not a “walk-in” facility. Nearly 100 percent of their patients are involuntary.
So why wasn’t Syvinski taken to API or admitted into the hospital for a longer period?
Officials at Providence would not comment.
Syvinski was at Providence for less than 24 hours, leaving little time for monitoring.
If he had been admitted into API he wouldn’t have had the chance to attack Am-Marie Martin.
“Patients are released from API when they no longer meet medical necessity criteria and the psychiatrist and treatment team believe treatment in an acute care setting has been completed,” said Adler. “Patients are always discharged with a referral and aftercare plan with a community provider.”
At the end of June 2012, API saw record high numbers of patients admitted, but Adler said they’re not at capacity.
At the end of the day API is a place that Adler is “proud” to be a part of.
For Syvinski, his non-admission to API was a missed opportunity for a chance to heal and be a part of a program that could have prevented a near-tragic event.
Syvinski now faces seven charges, including two for first-degree assault and one for first-degree robbery.
And young Am-Marie Martin lives with the trauma every day. Was she let down by a system that failed her attacker, one who had repeatedly cried out for help?