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Oregon hospital groups’ lawsuit against Oregon Health Authority can proceed, court rules

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(The Center Square) – The state’s four largest hospital organizations filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Health Authority, and a recent court ruling will allow the lawsuit to continue.

The lawsuit contends that OHA’s lack of long-term behavioral health facilities has caused hospitals to become overwhelmed with patients they are unable to treat.

“Community hospitals are not equipped, staffed or designed to provide long-term mental health care,” Alicia Beymer, Chief Administrative Officer, PeaceHealth Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend, told KOIN. “Despite the previous dismissal of our case, we felt duty-bound to appeal on behalf of the many vulnerable patients who are being denied appropriate care.”

The four hospital organizations suing the state run over half of Oregon’s psychiatric beds. They include: Legacy Health, PeaceHealth, Providence Health and Services, and St. Charles Health System.

Filed in September 2022, the lawsuit contends that OHA has a legal obligation to offer longer-term care options for people whose behavioral health issues require them to be civilly committed.

“Rather than ensure and provide timely access to appropriate treatment, OHA has adopted a practice of abandoning civilly committed patients in community hospitals — even though many patients have no medical need to be there,” the plaintiffs wrote in their opening brief, according to Courthouse News Service. “This practice injures both civilly committed patients and community hospitals.”

Michael Gillette, an attorney for the hospital groups, told a three-judge panel last month that the hospitals are being asked to do a job that’s outside of their capabilities.

“We treat people for emergencies, and we’re good at it,” he said, according to Courthouse News Service. “But we are not built for and not staffed for people that require long-term care.”

A court previously dismissed the lawsuit, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on Wednesday means it will now go to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.

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