Judge finds plan to treat mentally ill woman inadequate

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ST. CROIX - V.I. Superior Court Judge Harold Willocks is expected to issue an order by Monday outlining the specific areas of the local law Luis Hospital must follow when preparing a service plan for a woman the court ordered committed for psychiatric treatment last month but who has since been released.

During a status conference on Friday, Assistant Public Defender Yolan Ross told the court that she had received the service plan provided by the hospital as ordered by the court two weeks ago, but she had objections because the plan was lacking in a number of areas.

Willocks said he also thought that the plan created and presented by Chief Psychiatrist Evadne Sang did not specifically address all of the woman's clinical needs as mandated by the statute.

Royett Russell, legal counsel for the hospital, told the court that she received the motion from Ross on Friday morning. After reviewing it, Russell said, the hospital realized that it would need up to a week to adequately come into compliance with all of the outstanding areas of the current service plan.

"Services in the community are nonexistent, so we will have to work around and address the next step and the next to create a meaningful plan," she said.

Willocks granted the two-week request, saying that he wants the hospital to understand that just as it is the hospital's duty to care for someone who comes into the emergency room, it also is the hospital's duty to provide care for someone committed for psychiatric treatment by the court.

"The problem arose because you released her early," he said. "If the hospital takes upon itself to take action to do certain things, it has to follow through and take responsibility to have this plan include logical things that address the patient's needs according to the law to ensure she remains stabilized, among other things."

The woman was arrested in December and charged with aggravated assault and battery, and a competency hearing determined that she needed immediate psychiatric care.

Willocks said during a hearing Jan. 10, that he was notified days after the woman's arrest that she had been released early from the hospital without proper documentation and a service plan for outpatient treatment.

At that time, Willocks had harsh words for hospital representatives, saying that the way they treated the woman and the way they treat the mentally ill is not acceptable and is callous.

Russell had 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 for a number of days and a determination was made that she could be released and should receive out-patient treatment, she said.

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.

Luis currently is under two consent decrees and is being closely regulated, and sufficient community resources do not exist for the hospital to comply, Russell argued.

With the psychiatric wing closed, 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.

At Friday's status conference, Russell said that representatives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have advised the hospital that it will not be opening its wing next week as had been initially announced in November when the decision was made to close it.

Willocks scheduled a final hearing on the matter for next month and said he is hoping that the service plan is in compliance so that he could transfer the case to the Family Division of the court, which typically oversees cases involving the mentally ill.

"Had it not been for the fact that she was released early without a proper plan in place, this would be in Family Court for supervision, where it belongs," he said.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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