Judge chastises Luis Hospital officials over treatment of mentally ill woman
Published: January 11, 2013
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ST. CROIX - Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks has given Luis Hospital one week to provide the court with an out-patient plan for a woman who was ordered committed for psychiatric treatment there last month but has been since released.
Willocks held a hearing Thursday morning and had stern words for the hospital, through its legal counsel Royett Russell, who appeared along with Chief Psychiatrist Evadne Sang.
The woman was arrested in December and charged with aggravated assault and battery and a competency hearing determined that she needed immediate psychiatric care.
"The court will note that while I was on St. Thomas, my chambers received a call from someone at the hospital who was calling to inform me that she was stable, there were not beds available, the psychiatric unit was closed and she would be released," he said.
Willocks said that person was notified those actions were unacceptable because there was a court order in place, and Willocks' staff was told that he would just have to hold them in contempt because the woman would be released.
"I say this to the hospital and whoever else, I will not be subjected to any arrogance because there is an appropriate channel that all of these cases go through," he said. "It is improper for a doctor to call any judge and say what they will or will not do."
Willocks said it was mind-boggling to him that the hospital would even make a decision to close the unit around the Christmas season, knowing that there is no other suitable facility.
"To do this is an insult to humanity and to the people of the Virgin Islands," he said. "We have a lot of mentally ill in the community, and if you treat them like you treated her, like she was a bother, I find it offensive," he said.
Luis announced in a prepared statement Nov. 2 that it planned to temporarily close its Behavioral Health Unit for about 90 days while it renovates the unit and recruits additional staff. The statement said admissions to the unit were being suspended immediately.
Assistant Attorney General Joseph Ponteen asked whether the hospital even had jurisdiction to file the motion to release the woman that brought them before the court Thursday, because the case arose out of a criminal matter.
"They filed it, so here we are," Willocks said.
Russell began to defend the hospital's position, but Willocks interrupted, saying that he was only interested in hearing about the treatment plans meted out for the woman after she was discharged.
Russell said the hospital was designated as the custodian for the woman per the court order. According to the laws that oversee hospital actions involving mentally ill patients who are committed by the court, the woman was evaluated during a period of days and a determination was made that she could be released and should receive out-patient treatment, she said.
With the wing closed for another few weeks, the hospital has contracted with a Florida company to provide treatment for acute conditions, but the woman did not fall into that category, according to Russell.
"That is a medical decision that has to be made, and the next thing I know, I got the order to appear," Russell said.
Willocks agreed, but added that the law also states that a judge should be a part of the decision following a hearing where all parties including those providing social services are present.
"There is a procedure in place judge and if it had been followed we could have avoided all of this," she said.
Willocks said he did not have a problem with the decision being made that the woman was stable, but he said he was concerned that the court was not notified of a follow-up plan.
The judge also said that the overall approach by the hospital as it pertains to the mentally is callous.
Russell admitted that the hospital was not in technical compliance with the law but argued that the territory has a huge problem with mental health. She said the statute was written when those responsibilities fell under the Health Department, but now responsibility has been transferred to the hospital.
Luis currently is under two consent decrees and is being closely regulated, and there are insufficient community resources, Russell argued.
After hearing brief testimony from Sang, who said an out-patient treatment plan could be available for the court by the end of day Thursday, Willocks ordered that the plan be submitted to the court by Wednesday. He said the woman's attorney would have until Jan. 22 to voice any objections, and if there are no objections, he will approve the plan.
If there are objections by the defense, they will be heard at a hearing tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 25.
Ponteen said he will file a statement of no prosecution in the woman's criminal case.
- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.