7 On Your Side: DC mental health treatment problems

DC mental health treatment problems (ABC7)

A report released Monday by the Office of DC Auditor highlights major problems and gaps within the DC Department of Behavioral Health (DBH). The centerpiece of DBH’s mental health efforts is the 291 inpatient beds at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Southeast Washington.

“There are problems in waiting lists and slow services and non-services throughout the whole system,” DC Auditor Kathleen Patterson told the ABC7 I-Team Friday. “So the waiting lists for at the hospital have to do with people who could go to trial if they were found mentally competent but they need to be assessed for their competency, and so when there’s a shortage of beds at the hospital it slows everything up, and the courts have been very concerned about this, have expressed that in terms of some of the court actions with Department of Behavioral Health.”

In August 2017, DC Superior Court expressed concern with the backlog and ordered DBH to cycle more patients through. DBH complied but created what the DC Auditor called “psychiatric emergencies” when interrupting patient care.

The lack of any DC requirement of forensic psychology training for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital staff was called a problem by the DC Auditor.

“One of the things we found was a lack of requirements in our law. A lot of jurisdictions say you have to have this requirement, you have to have that certification. And one of the things we’re recommending is that the actual DC code be changed to make very clear what forensic psychologists and psychiatrists, what kinds of training they need to have and then to set up training programs so we can get a lot more people doing this work,” said Patterson.

Outpatients services are being improved in order to decrease the waiting time at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, according to the auditor.

“One of the things that we have found is the Department of Behavioral Health is working with the Metropolitan Police Department on a new program to try to provide some additional diversion services for this population to essentially sort of stop the inflow at the front door,” said Patterson.

The DC Council held an oversight hearing Monday morning after the auditor’s report was released.

The Department of Behavioral Health has not responded to ABC7’s request for comment on the auditor’s report.

Click here to read the auditor’s full 191-page report or view it below:

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