'Bordering on cruel:' State Hospital struggles to meet psych needs

(Jackson, Wyo.) - Last Tuesday, there were 13 inmates throughout the state of Wyoming on the waiting list for a bed at the Wyoming State Hospital. These inmates have a court order to be evaluated by a professional to determine if they are able to aid in their own defense. Right as two spots opened up, three more people were added to the list. And this isn't uncommon. These inmates often wait for weeks and sometimes months, without the possibility of bond, to be transferred to the increasingly busy Wyoming State Hospital. According to Wyoming Department of Health Director Thomas Forslund, there are 28 beds available for people classified as Title 7 and 75 beds available for Title 25, and there is a significant waiting list for both. “We have a difficult situation right now with the demand exceeding our capacity,” said Forslund. Title 7 persons are ordered to undergo forensic psych services including completing court ordered competency evaluations and mental status evaluation at the time of an alleged criminal offense. Title 25 is the emergency detention and involuntary hospitalization of persons with mental illness. "There is significantly longer waiting list on that side [title 25]. We have approximately 35-45 people on the waiting list at any point in time," said Forslund. Forslund explained that the waiting is a result of the significant increase in demand over the last few years. For Title 25 people, there has been an 87.5 percent increase, and for Title 7s, the number has almost doubled from 125 people in 2009 to 225 in 2015. Meanwhile, inmates sit in jail awaiting an evaluation at the Wyoming State Hospital. In Teton County, two inmates have been waiting since the beginning of February to be transferred and Teton County Sheriff Jim Whalen is getting impatient. "As the sheriff in charge of that jail and responsible for not just the jail but the people who are in it -- staff as well as other inmates -- when I receive an order commanding that I respond to transferring custody from my custody to the State Hospital for an evaluation, I can’t look at that in any other way as being something upon which to act as soon as I can,” said Sheriff Whalen. And the sheriff's concerns are not unwarranted. One of these inmates was recently charged with causing bodily injury to a peace officer while in jail. During a recent court hearing about the transfer, a doctor testified that the current situation for the two men is "bordering on cruel and inhumane. Not because of the treatment in the jail, but because the facility is not capable of meeting their needs." The Teton County situation is not uncommon. In Campbell County, an inmate was ordered to be evaluated at the Wyoming State Hospital in mid-December and was just transferred on March 1. According to the Campbell County Sheriff's Office, the inmate destroyed a significant amount of county property while in detention. The Wyoming State Hospital is working to find a remedy. For the short term, they are moving money around in able to secure some new beds for Title 7 patients as well as working to hire some more staff to assist in evaluations. In the long term, he is working to secure capital construction funding to rebuild the Wyoming State Hospital and the Wyoming Life Resource Center. But he says that expanding the hospital and staff isn't enough, that there needs to be more care coordination in the communities. “We need a combination of efforts, not only to build capacity at the State Hospital to accept more, but to also have more prevention activities and care coordination on the front end so you don’t have as many people coming into the system,” said Forslund. Teton County and Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Weichman says that everyone in this situation is trying to do the best they can for the people involved. Although he said that he is not permitted to talk about specific cases, he commented on the situation as a whole. "This story is populated by a group of Wyoming public servants who are trying really really hard to do the right thing," said Weichman. "I think that is something that is good not to lose sight of." *Feature Photo: Wyoming State Hospital. h/t Creative Commons / Pitchengine Communities* #buckrail #county10 #shortgo #county17 #reboot #dally #oilcity #springcity #news