Sunday, 4 November 2012

County mental health facility facing 'walkaway' problem

County mental health facility facing 'walkaway' problem

A guard walks down the hall to the back door of the Sonoma County Mental Health Psychiatric Emergency Services building on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2012. Mental health patients have been walking out through the back door, forcing staff to call the Santa Rosa Police Department to find and return them.


Published: Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 3:45 p.m.
Santa Rosa police records of the calls for help from the emergency psychiatric center on Chanate Road stir images of officers searching through bushes, following people down the busy street and into surrounding neighborhoods.

Staff members describe patients leaving without needed medication, trying to get into nearby buildings. Some were as old as 80 and described as “frail,” while others were as young as 12.

• On Feb. 15, staff told police that a person on a conservatorship “needs to be brought back,” is “very psychotic” and “likes to ‘cold cock' people.”

• Officers were called twice on May 24.

A person on a 5150 hold was spotted jumping onto a mail truck and then running west on Chanate Road, records show. Officers eventually found the person “on an access road to the open space.”

Six hours later, police were again searching the neighborhood for a woman with a “grave disability” wearing socks but no shoes.

• On May 27, staff called police just before 9 a.m. and said a woman left PES and was possibly headed across the street to Sutter Hospital to look for her phone.

• A man wearing only plaid boxers walked away June 11, prompting another 911 call.

• A man described as “intermittently violent for no reason” with a brown shirt tied over his head ran out of PES at 10:30 a.m. June 19. Officers found him hiding in bushes outside Sutter Hospital.

• Staff told police that a suicidal man who slipped out a back door Aug. 4 “felt like killing everyone and himself.” He was last seen running down Chanate Road toward Mendocino Avenue. He returned on his own.

• Five days later, a barefoot man wearing only a hospital gown ran out the door. Staff told police they didn't know where he was from.

Officers did not find the person and issued a countywide alert to law enforcement.
They were among thousands of people taken each year to the county's mental health facility, perched on a wooded hillside between several north Santa Rosa neighborhoods. There, they were placed on temporary holds to prevent them from hurting themselves or others.
But the Charles M. Norton Mental Health Center, designed to be a safe haven for people suffering severe psychiatric disorders, is not secured.
About once a week, staff call police to report that a patient under a psychiatric hold walked away from the Chanate Road facility, according to a Press Democrat analysis of police dispatch records over the first eight months of 2012.
“It's a problem,” said Michael Kennedy, Sonoma County's director of mental health services. “We would like zero people to leave. That is our goal.”
While in some counties people are taken to emergency rooms or directly to psychiatric hospitals, Sonoma County's Psychiatric Emergency Services facility is among just a handful in the state designed as an intermediate place where people are evaluated outside of the commotion of a hospital.
About 10 patients a day are seen there and the facility has at least eight beds for overnight stays.
At the Norton Center, a security guard posted at the front door is prohibited in most cases from physically restraining people who try to leave, Kennedy said. These people are patients, not prisoners, he said. When one tries to leave, staff often walk or run alongside and talk them into coming back.

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