ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska reached a settlement with an advocacy group in a dispute over involuntary commitments of people suffering mental health crises before they receive treatment from health care professionals.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services and the Disability Law Center reached a settlement Thursday after a series of lawsuits, KTUU-TV reported.
The lawsuits filed by the Disability Law Center and petitioners represented by the Public Defender Agency maintained that a lack of timely evaluations while holding people in jails or emergency units is unconstitutional.
The center’s initial lawsuit in 2018 sought to end the practice of holding mental health patients in correctional or emergency facilities as they awaited services through the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.
The state facility implemented a capacity policy that created longer wait times for admission, the lawsuit said.
People “who had been picked up in the community were brought to correctional facilities because they could not be admitted directly to API for evaluation, and no hospital would admit them,” the lawsuit said.
The settlement approved by Judge William Morse has several provisions, including a commitment by the health and social services department to train law enforcement officers to refrain from incarcerating people when jail is not appropriate.
The settlement also calls for mental health professionals to be dispatched to patients wherever they are kept when possible and for the state to file monthly reports through mid-2021 showing the location and duration of people being held.
The settlement also agreed to the implementation of a system known as “Crisis Now,” which seeks to make short-term stabilization centers available for evaluations.
“A lot of what our settlement looks at is the future,” Disability Law Center Legal Director Mark Regan said. “The future is going to be a less intrusive, less institutional system called ’Crisis Now.’ “
The health and social services department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.