The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is updating its involuntary commitment process following a state supreme court ruling that psychiatric patients may not be held for extended periods in emergency rooms without a judge getting involved.
Details are still being worked out by the Office of Behavioral Health on new rules to reflect the new precedent in the ruling late last month, said Jackie Farwell, a Maine DHHS spokesperson.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court’s decision enforces a limit of five days, with a judge’s approval, for someone to be held in an emergency room against their will. The process starts over after five days if there’s no placement available for the patient, the court said.
The court ruled unanimously in favor of a patient who was held for a month against his will last year in the LincolnHealth Miles Campus Hospital emergency room in Damariscotta.
Meegan Burbank, an attorney for the man, said she’s pleased by the state’s willingness to revise its process, but said it doesn’t make up for the fact there aren’t enough psychiatric hospital beds.
“This doesn’t fix a problem. It shines a light on a problem,” Burbank told the Portland Press Herald.
The hospital thought it was working in everyone’s best interests and was following forms and instructions provided by DHHS, MaineHealth attorney Jim Bailinson said.
“We welcome the increased guidance,” he said. “We just haven’t had a mechanism until now.”