Psychiatrist: Zappala's proposal to use county jail to house violent mentally ill not ideal
Converting part of the Allegheny County Jail into a psychiatric ward for violent mentally ill patients could make more problems than it solves, says the top psychiatrist in Allegheny County's behavioral health unit.
District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. included the suggestion for such use of the jail in a four-page letter he sent Thursday to county elected leaders. He raised concerns about how facilities in the county treat mentally ill patients who are prone to violence.
The suggestion is part of a series of ongoing reviews stemming from John Shick's shooting spree on March 8 last year at UPMC Western Psychiatric and Institute & Clinic in Oakland.
Dr. Christine Martone, chief psychiatrist for the county's Behavior Assessment Unit, said Zappala is correct about a lack of beds for people, but doesn't believe the jail would be a good solution. She said she and Zappala discussed the issue a few months ago.
“I do not think it could be done. The mental health unit in the jail is not like an inpatient or outpatient facility. Certification is difficult,” Martone said. “... I'm not a lawyer, but I don't think any constitutional test would withstand putting these people in jail. The answer is more beds, and I applaud him for trying to be creative.”
Zappala said he made the suggestion, in part, to spark a conversation about how to address the shortage of places able to care for the violently mentally ill.
“We still haven't addressed the issue,” Zappala said on Friday. If the jail isn't the answer, he said, “OK. So what do they propose to do about it?”
Zappala softened a claim in his letter that Western Psych doesn't take patients with alcohol or drug problems unless they were treated there. Zappala said the information came from a clinician who worked outside of Western Psych. The district attorney said he will “follow up” with the person about the claim.
UPMC spokeswoman Gloria Kreps said the hospital treats “every patient in need of psychiatric services ... regardless of diagnosis.”
Martone said she has had no problems with Western Psych accepting patients from the jail, even those with drug and alcohol problems.
“I've gotten people in there from the jail. You just have to know the right people to call,” said Martone, who is part of the volunteer faculty at Western Psych.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald is reviewing Zappala's suggestions and declined comment, said his spokeswoman Amie Downs.
Martone said the state's closing of Mayview State Hospital in South Fayette exacerbated the lack of beds for people with mental health problems.
“You can't pin everything on any one entity. What we really need is more beds in the community and to make it easier for people to get into the hospital,” she said.
A spokesman for County Controller Chelsa Wagner said she plans to audit the $15 million mental health services contract between the county and Western Psych. Zappala said the contract could give the county leverage to push safety upgrades.
Shick, 30, of Oakland, who had a history of mental illness, killed therapist Michael Schaab, 25, of Regent Square and wounded five others before police killed him.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fix for issues vowed at Pittsburgh VA
- 3 Brentwood council members submit resignation letters
- Leadership rises as issue for Pa. voters in new poll
- Bakery Square town houses plans to go to Pittsburgh city planners
- Citation of police observer called ‘abuse of power’ by Pittsburgh police
- Density, divide complicate effort to cull deer in Mt. Lebanon
- Pittsburgh region enjoys healthy dose of ‘brain gain’
- Penn Hills school board accepts building sale
- Four questioned in Glen Hazel shooting of teen
- Newsmaker: Jay Carson
- Some riled, others resigned to high earners in Pittsburgh public housing