Central Valley mental hospital
to lighten Napa State's patient load
Saturday, October 15, 2005
By DAVID RYAN
Register Staff Writer
State mental health officials are
moving patients to a new institution in the Central Valley, actions they
say could mean Napa State Hospital
will be able to serve more mentally ill now living at Napa County Jail.
Public defenders from Napa and
around the Bay Area complain about their clients' right to a speedy trial
being violated by backups in the mental health system, a trend they say
has been exacerbated in the last couple of years. Terry Davis, Napa County public defender, said many of her
clients found incompetent to stand trial sit for months in jail, instead
of being treated at Napa State Hospital,
where many would ideally end up as soon as possible.
Department of Mental Health officials said Napa State
has a 66-patient waiting list for jail inmates found incompetent to stand
trial, and on average the hospital
takes in an additional 30 patients each month. After the county files
paperwork with the hospital, the
average patient waits about two months for admission.
"It's really involved a lot of jockeying to get people in," Davis said.
"In the jail they can get medications, but the medications aren't
necessarily those that they need to restore their competency ... they may
just help them to be easier to deal with in jail."
Davis said the
only alternative to having her clients sit in jail is to let the inmates
go free, where they are unlikely to receive any kind of treatment. Napa
has a special section devoted to treating mental disorders for male
patients found incompetent to stand trial -- complete with mock
courtrooms where patients get familiar with the legal system.
Kirsten Macintyre, a spokeswoman with the Department of Mental Health,
said that since Coalinga State Hospital
opened last month -- the first new state
hospital in 50 years -- it will
have a ripple-effect throughout the five-facility system, easing the
burden on older hospitals like Napa State.
Thomas Hunt, a spokesman with Coalinga
said the facility is serving only 50 of its 1,500-patient capacity while
it waits for state officials to
issue licenses to open more of its treatment centers. Hunt said Coalinga State is designed to treat patients
labeled sexually violent predators, a group of mentally ill that meet
strict criteria of illness that distinguish them from many rapists or
other sex offenders.
is not allowed to house sexually violent predators or any other
judicially-committed patients who are major escape risks. However, state officials' planned transfer of
some sexually violent predators from Atascadero State Hospital
to Coalinga will open space in the system for other kinds of patients.
"I know in the last week we've been trying to shuffle around
patients," Macintyre said.
According to the Department of Mental Health, Napa State
has been running at or near its 980 judicially-committed patient limit
for at least the last year. According to a state
law, there are more than 1,300 licensed beds at Napa State.
About 20 percent of Napa State's patients are not
State's cap on
judicially-committed patients can be traced back to Rep. Mike Thompson,
D-St. Helena. In 1997, when then-state
Sen. Mike Thompson worked to allay Napa
County residents' fears about the state's plans to admit more
judicially-committed patients to the hospital,
he cut a deal with state
bureaucrats to limit the number and type of patients that could be
At the same time, he won approval to speed construction of an additional
250 beds at Atascadero State Hospital
to relieve pressure on Napa State.
Later that decade, the hospital
built high security fences and beefed up its police force. It also
stopped letting penal code patients leave the hospital without an escort.
In recent months the hospital has
come under fire from state
regulators and the U.S. Department of Justice for the way it treats its
In June, the DOJ complained that in addition to being barred from touring
Napa State, hospital staff didn't do enough to stop
patient violence, drug overdoses and a string of suicides in recent
It also said a Napa physician
testified that hospital employees
sold street drugs to patients. State
regulators pressured the hospital
to comply with federal civil rights laws limiting the amount of time
patients could be held under restraints.
Department of Mental Health officials have said they've cooperated with
their critics, negotiating with them and improving the hospital's
services where they can. Napa State Hospital
spokeswoman Lupe Rincon has said the hospital
adopted a new system of treatment in 2004. Hospital
officials also claim to have cut the number of hours patients are placed
in seclusion or restraints by 77 percent.