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Task Force Wants Better Process for Getting Mentally Ill from Police Custody to Psychiatric Care


A task force involving psychiatrists, first responders and hospitals wants to streamline the process for getting people having a mental health emergency into proper care.

Project Blue Streets Chairman Jason Beaman said the idea behind the task force is simple.

"Our police officers are spending hours and hours and hours in emergency rooms, often waiting on unnecessary and nonscientific-based tests and labs instead of out patrolling our streets," Beaman said.

Police officers who pick up people having a mental health emergency must stay with them until they’re at a psychiatric facility. Currently, those patients must go to an emergency room for a battery of medical tests before they are cleared for admission at a psychiatric hospital.

Beaman said that puts other patients around someone who may be a danger to themselves or others.

"But then also, that patient deserves the best treatment, and they deserve to have that start as soon as possible. We should not be delaying them for 12 to 24 hours in a medical facility that can’t provide the kind of care that our psychiatric hospitals can," Beaman said.

Beaman, also the OSU Center for Health Sciences chair of psychiatry, said Tulsa psychiatric hospitals have varying standards for medical clearance, but the tests they require rarely result in a reason to deny someone admission.

"Somebody who has been suffering from schizophrenia for their entire life, we know that they have schizophrenia, but now, all of a sudden, some doctor thinks that they need a CT scan in order to be medically stable to go into the psychiatric hospital. And that’s just not based on science," Beaman said.

Another example: Psychiatric facilities commonly have blood alcohol content limits, but those don't consider the difference between longtime, heavy drinkers who have built up a tolerance and young drinkers who could be in danger at the same level.

The task force aims to recommend a citywide medical clearance protocol early next year that first responders, hospitals and psychiatric facilities agree to follow. Beaman said Project Blue Streets will continue meeting quarterly after the protocol is adopted in case it needs revisions.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.