|Updated: 12/11/2006 3:22 pm
||Published: 12/11/2006 12:52 pm
LITTLE ROCK (AP) - A group of health-care professionals and law enforcement officials has been working on recommendations for the state Legislature to improve Arkansas' system of treating and housing people with mental illness.
In a case last summer, U.S. District Judge G. Thomas Eisele stopped short of saying the system was unconstitutional. Instead, he warned that legislators should promptly address problems with the system.
The son of 60-year-old Donald Winter of Bella Vista brought the federal case. Winter died of an infection related to the stress of being housed at the Benton County jail, while waiting for a bed to open up at the State Hospital.
Currently, Arkansas doesn't have enough beds for mentally ill people at the Arkansas State Hospital in emergency cases. The State Hospital and many private psychiatric hospitals also refuse to admit mentally ill patients before they are medically stable, and private facilities are often unwilling to admit uninsured patients.
Little Rock lawyer Diane Mackey, a former law clerk for Eisele, is heading the group along with staff members of the Winthrop Rockefeller Center at the University of Arkansas System.
The group is working on a system that would ensure that indigent or uninsured Arkansans with acute mental illness have a place to go when their behavior prompts calls to police. Many need inpatient care, but currently that care is often not available and they end up in jail on misdemeanor charges, leveled primarily as a way to keep them off the streets.
The group also includes representatives of law enforcement, county government, the state Division of Behavioral Health, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences psychiatry department, an administrator for a private psychiatric hospital, representatives of the 15 community mental health centers across the state and representatives of acute-care hospitals.
The Legislature's Joint Interim Committee on Public Health has expressed interest in the group's efforts and expects to get a report on the recommendations before the legislative session begins Jan. 8.
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