|The state’s method for involuntary hospitalization of individuals who are believed to be of danger to themselves or others should be faster and more efficient, according to Mark Drennan, Executive Director of the West Virginia Behavioral Health Providers Association.Drennan appeared Sunday during a meeting of the West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Health.
Drennan said an involuntary commitment proceeding to one of the state’s hospitals — Bateman in Huntington and Sharpe in Weston — should take three to six hours, although some of them can continue for days.
Drennan said a task force has met for a year, and he offered highlights that are to be included in a bill that will be introduced in the upcoming session:
· Allow transport by law enforcement officials other than sheriffs’ deputies. Emergency medical technicians may handle some transport post-adjudication.
· Require the Department of Health and Human Resources secretary to provide information identifying contacts for admission to state hospitals.
· Require the DHHR Secretary and the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to perform civil involuntary commitment audits.
· Require mental health centers to make available trained individuals to conduct competency hearings generally via video conferencing.
· Change the language for instituting a proceeding from “reason to believe” to “direct and specific knowledge” that an individual may be of harm to the individual or others.
· State hospitals must be made aware of the filing for involuntary commitment within 30 minutes.
· A health care provider must determine the individual is medically stable and provide that information to the state hospital within 30 minutes. The determination of medical stability is somewhat limited, not requiring a substantial and often time-consuming battery of tests.
· A hearing to determine whether the person meets involuntary hospitalization criteria must be held within two hours.
· The examiner, within 60 minutes of completing the examination, must notify the mental hygiene commissioner, circuit court or magistrate and state hospital of the outcome.
· A probable-cause hearing must be held promptly before a magistrate or mental hygiene commissioner. A cadre of mental health commissioners could be trained by the Supreme Court to conduct the hearings through telehealth.
· The bill sets out timelines and requirements for how long an individual can be kept in a facility under an involuntary commitment order.
· If there is not a bed in a state facility, the individual is required to be sent to a diversion facility. The diversion facility must be identified within two hours.
Advocates object that the expedited version of commitment may not allow them time to preserve an individual’s constitutional rights. There also was discussion about getting individuals to enter into voluntary commitment agreements to preserve their ability to own firearms.