SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah State Hospital is making progress in its effort to cut down the wait times for people to undergo mental health treatment before they can stand trial, officials told lawmakers this week.
The wait averaged 23 days in September, down from July, hospital superintendent Dallas Earnshaw told lawmakers on Tuesday. That’s despite an 80 percent increase in the number of people accused of crimes in need of treatment over the last five years, the Deseret News reported .
“We’ve done a tremendous job,” he said. But the hospital will still need more than $2 million in state funding to make a March deadline for a 14-day wait time.
The progress comes after a 2015 settlement with the Disability Law Center, which argued that defendants were sitting in jail cells for months awaiting treatment, sometimes longer than the sentence they would have served if they’d been found guilty.
Defendants are considered mentally competent for trial if they can understand the charges against them and communicate with their lawyers. If they are found incompetent, the case has to stop until they can participate.
To free up state hospital beds, officials have identified some patients who could be moved into jails or communities for treatment. They have also taken advice from consultants and talked more with courts and prosecutors, Earnshaw said.
This week, five people were awaiting admission, down from 15 in July, he told a panel of lawmakers.
The hospital still needs more state money to open 12 more beds so it can make its make its March deadline, Earnshaw said. In the last three months, the number of people referred to the hospital has doubled since the same period last year.
Rep. Ed Redd, a physician and Republican from Logan, said people with mental illness sometimes grew sicker as they waited in jail for treatment.
“I hope we can continue to make improvements,” Redd said, “because it’s a lot better than it was before.”