A superior court judge ruled this week that patients needing a psychiatric evaluation to be admitted to the Alaska Psychiatric Institute cannot wait in jail or emergency rooms.

The Disability Law Center of Alaska filed a lawsuit in October 2018, after learning multiple mental health patients — who are not charged with crimes — have been held in Department of Corrections facilities for days. 

The lawsuit filed against the Department of Health and Social Services asked for an immediate end to the detention of psychiatric patients who face no criminal charges in DOC facilities. 

Judge William F. Morse ruled Monday those practices cause irreparable harm and has ordered DHSS to come up with a plan for corrective action by Dec. 5, 2019, according to a release from the Disability Law Center of Alaska on Tuesday.

Due to staffing and safety concerns, API dropped its bed capacity to 36 from the usual 78. That decision was made after after the state released a report in September 2018 detailing an unsafe working environment at API. 

With the loss of beds at API, patients were diverted to hospital emergency rooms, and when those fill up they were kept in DOC facilities. 

In a press release, the Disability Law Center of Alaska noted:

"The Court acknowledge efforts to bring API back up to capacity but, having reviewed API admission reports over the last 8 months, discerned “little improvement.” Over the last eight months, 68 Alaskans were held for 10 or more days before they were admitted to API or their case was otherwise disposed of. Over the same period the Court and noted an increase in the number of persons held in DOC. In February 2019, that number was seven and, seven months later, in September 2019, it climbed to 18."

The court ordered DHSS to create a plan to be implemented in 90 days.

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