Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Minnesota Continues A Flawed Approach To Serious Mental Illness And Aggression

I was shocked to see this article posted on a CBS web site.  I was shocked because I was completely unaware  that such a law existed.  I was shocked because Minnesota has fairly well documented problems in their state hospital system.  The state security hospital has had numerous problems with containing violence and aggression and there is no evidence that situation has been resolved.  There are very few specialized units in hospitals in the state that could potentially deal with the problems of violence and aggressive patients.  There has been no effort to modify the limited infrastructure in the state that has been the result of managed care-like rationing over the past 20 years.

The story is a lot more involved than suggested by the news article.  When I read it I contacted my state legislators and asked for clarification primarily by pointing me to where the "12 hour rule" existed in the State Statutes.  The Minnesota State Statutes are generally easy to search but I could not find it.  My state Senator got back to me and suggested that this is the rule in 253B.10 PROCEDURES UPON COMMITMENT.  Chapter 253 is the civil commitment statute and reading through this chapter suggests that transfers from jail to state mental hospitals have to be adjudicated as mentally ill by civil commitment.  Other pathways include being found not guilty by reason of mental illness, and for examination or determination of competency to proceed to trial.  Apart from the time constraint, that part of the statute does not materially alter patient flow to state hospitals.  The statute gets more interesting with the following subdivision:

Subd. 4. Private treatment.

Patients or other responsible persons are required to pay the necessary charges for patients committed or transferred to private treatment facilities. Private treatment facilities may not refuse to accept a committed person solely based on the person's court-ordered status. Insurers must provide treatment and services as ordered by the court under section 253B.045, subdivision 6, or as required under chapter 62M. 

Private facilities refuse to accept court ordered and committed patients all of the time just based on the fact that severe mental illness cannot be treated on an 8 day DRG payment that in reality is treated like a 4 or 5 day length of stay.

The article itself focuses on Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center.  That is a state operated psychiatric facility just north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.  If the intent of the legislature is to alleviate crowding in jails, the writing of a statute will not do that.  If I had to estimate, the majority of inmates in county jails with significant mental illness and addiction problems are not committed and do not meet the forensic criteria suggested in the statute.  The article also illustrates the ambivalence that the state government has toward state run hospitals.  Not too long ago, the legislature wanted to close this hospital down.  Many states have adopted the managed care rationing model to mental illness.  They reasoned that the best way to "save" money is to close down state-run hospitals and clinics.  I have no doubt that the state would close it down if possible but it occupies too central a role in the civil commitment process.  There is instead a detailed political process to manage the hospital (see first reference).  That document is current, 114 pages long with 41 references to "jail" and 37 references to "aggression".  It acknowledges the role of the state in treating aggressive patients with mental illnesses. 

I have no way of knowing if any of the patients mentioned in this article requested transfer to a private hospital.  I would consider any hospital in the state that is outside of the state hospital system to be a private hospital because at this point they are all parts of private health care systems.  Only a fraction of community hospitals in the state have psychiatric units and a smaller portion of those are equipped to treat violent or aggressive patients.

I have tried to elaborate on this blog the type of structure necessary to treat people who are violent and aggressive as a result of mental illness. Any time that correctional populations are considered, the problem is more complicated than mental illness or not.  There are many individuals with sociopathy or personalities that are anti-authoritarian and with a tendency to criminal behavior.  At the extreme end a variant of psychopathy has been described where criminal tendencies, combined with a lack of empathy leads to an individual who is potentially more dangerous.  Those individuals often have a history of repeated violence against others and a pattern of planned violence as way of life.  The associated issues are that patients who are predominately personality disordered criminals are better taken care of within the correctional system.  Patients with primary mental illness who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes or violent crimes that occur only an episode of discrete mental illness are probably better treated in a mental health setting - especially if that is a continuation of their ongoing care.  Those statements are generally true because the personality disordered mentally ill will demonstrate a pattern of threatening other patients and staff with physical violence.  They may also exploit more vulnerable patients and try to intimidate them into giving them money, information, or personal favors that they can use to their advantage.  Those behaviors are goal driven, reinforced by a life of crime, and not likely to change as a result of any psychiatric intervention.

The article states that 146 inmates have been transferred from Minnesota jails to state hospitals since July 2013.  There is an eye witness account of what has occurred and a description of some of the injuries to staff including facial fractures and a torn shoulder tendon as the direct result of assaults on staff.  There is also the following statement from the affected staff person:

 And though she agrees there are other factors behind the rise in workplace injuries — a hesitance to use force against potentially abusive patients chief among them — she said she and her co-workers believe the 48-hour rule is largely responsible.

The issue of the use of physical force in psychiatric hospitals was also the primary cause of the upheaval in the previously cited problems at the Minnesota Security Hospital. A change in administration occurred to address the issue of patient injuries due to physical interventions. According to news reports that and the associated administrative measures were associated with an increase in staff injuries. We are left with the impression that there have been no effective interventions to prevent patient and staff injuries in state hospitals and the problem of aggression in these facilities has been poorly addressed. Organized psychiatry in the state has been silent on these issues.

The bottom line in this article is that it illustrates that Minnesota politicians and bureaucrats have no understanding of what is required to treat people with mental illness and aggressive behavior.  Their misunderstanding is significant and it occurs at multiple levels.  First, they have no understanding that the current system of mental health care is based on a system of rationing designed to provide minimal to no mental health care.  That all starts with hospital systems that have been rationed to the point that there are often no detectable changes in the mental health of the people admitted compared with the people discharged.  Psychiatric care in rationed hospitals is designed to limit treatment to a brief period or reimbursement.  Second, they have a track record of using mental health jargon to come up with their own diagnostic category of "sexual psychopaths" that can be used for indefinite confinement of sex offenders.  This categorization allows for diversion away from a correctional system that is apparently unable to confine sex offenders to the satisfaction of politicians and their constituents.  Third, the state managed security hospital has had a number of problems in the past few years including the mass resignation of psychiatry staff and an increasing number of injuries to hospital staff.  Fourth, Deputy Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry is quoted in the article. She was also quoted in previous articles about the Security Hospital. She attributes the problem to unintended consequences. To me that suggests a complete misunderstanding of psychiatric services in the state of Minnesota. Any psychiatrist in this state, especially if they work on an inpatient unit would be able to predict this problem. Commissioner Barry has also been quoted in the articles about the Security Hospital (see below)  Fifth, the direct quote by State Sen. Kathy Sheran also illustrates a misunderstanding of the problem. The idea that state hospitals are holding large numbers of people who don't need to be there is longstanding political rhetoric. In the absence of environments that can assist severely disabled individuals the default environments are hospitals. It is glib to say that people should no longer be a hospital when they have no safe place to live outside the of the hospital. As a reviewer of hospital admissions and lengths of stay, the presence of acute symptoms is typically used to mark who should be in a hospital. Chronic severe psychiatric disorders have a number of problems with cognition and functional capacity that lead to an inability to care for self independently of acute symptoms.  The associated political problem is a lack of funding for community based programs to resolve the problem.  As I have previously posted in many cases these community based programs that are inadequately equipped to contain aggression place both patients and staff at higher risk.

I qualify this post with the same qualifications I have put on previous posts on the topic on state run facilities.  The only source of information I have on this issue has been the press and legislative reports on mental health services in correctional facilities and at Anoka.  Media reporting of psychiatric issues and services leaves a lot to be desired and typically vacillates between blaming psychiatrists for all of the problems and tragic cases that result from a lack of services.  The only corroboration in this article seems to be the reaction of state politicians to it.  We have seen similar reactions to these issues in the press.  Unless there are some outright denials about the scope of the problem, something needs to be done.  The last thing we need is a state run Task Force or Commission investigating  itself.  The second to last thing we need is consultants hired by the state to write another report.  At this point, I don't even think that a review of the incidents is possible.

Any hospital in the state should be required to prospectively flag records based on violence, aggression and whether they were transferred from the correctional system.  All of the staff in those cases should make a recording of their perceptions of the antecedents, intervention and why it failed or succeeded, and the outcome.  Those cases should be reviewed on a weekly or monthly basis by psychiatrists with experience in treating severe mental illnesses and aggression.  That panel of psychiatrists should be carefully screened for conflict of interests, especially any financial conflicts of interest with the State or any other entities responsible for providing the treatment in question.

It is time to solve this problem.  Having the problems analyzed time after time by the same people who do not understand the problem and who can not possibly come up with a solution has not worked in the past 5 years and it will not work in the future.  Instead we have a state official charged with solving the problem saying that fewer psychiatrists makes sense and psychiatric expertise at the systems level is not needed as the system continues to collapse.  The system of state hospital care for patients with serious mental illnesses and aggression may not be salvageable at this point without realistic backing by the state.

A key part of the miscalculation appears to be casting psychiatrists in the role of generic technicians.  Of course these technicians would not have any understanding of patient centered care or a therapeutic alliance despite the fact that they have been writing about it for over a 50 years.  This accomplishes two goals at least at the rhetorical level.  It makes it seem like untrained administrators can address systemic issues of violence and aggression.  It also makes it seem like the only thing psychiatrists can do it prescribe medications - often to "stable" people.  Far too many errors have been made and public statements on the issues are consistent with a lack of appreciation of the problem and a complete lack of appreciation that psychiatrists are the only people professionally trained to provide this level of care.  This is by no means only limited to state systems.  These attitudes are prevalent in any hospital or clinic that is under the direction of a managed care system.

Will the problem of aggression in people with severe mental illness be addressed by arbitrary rules on patient flow and a treatment program that is flowing down from politicians and bureaucrats?  Will the problem be solved by a consensus of stakeholders?  Will the problem be addressed by new age jargon and philosophy?

I don't think so.

George Dawson, MD, DFAPA


Minnesota Department of Human Services - Direct Care and Treatment. Plan for the Anoka Metro Regional Treatment Center. Direct Care and Treatment and Chemical and Mental Health Services Administrations. February 18, 2014

From the above document:  "Jails also count on AMRTC to take people whose criminal behavior is determined to be the result of mental illness (a new law requires that AMRTC accept referrals from jails within 48 hours of referral). Because of insufficient capacity in the service system, there are lengthy waiting lists for AMRTC beds"  (p 61).

Supplementary 1:  A previous quote from Commissioner Barry: "DHS officials say the facility no longer needs as many psychiatrists because many of the patients are stable and only require psychiatric visits once every three months. In addition, Barry said, the importance of psychiatrists at the facility has lessened over the years. Psychiatrists are just one part of the treatment team, she said. Nurses and psychologists also play an important role in patient care, and in many cases, advanced practice nurses can handle many of the tasks that used to be the responsibility of the psychiatrists, she said."

Supplementary 2:  I was unable to find any statute that described this 48 hr transfer rule.  I have asked my state representatives for assistance since it may not be a statute.  Corrected as of 12/9/2014 with the statute posted above.

Supplementary 3:  If you currently work in a non-state funded psychiatric unit and have received these transfers from correctional facilities please post your experience in the comments section below.  Feel free to post them anonymously and in a way that does not indirectly identify you or the facility that you work at.

No comments:

Post a Comment