The stories of patient mistreatment in locked private psychiatric facilities recently gained national attention. Celebrity Paris Hilton testified Feb. 9, 2021, to a Utah Senate Committee concerning her traumatic experience in private facilities.
In Alaska, over 90% of the acute care psychiatric patients receive their treatment in locked private psychiatric facilities or units outside of state-run Alaska Psychiatric Institute. In API the state has greater control over the standard of care, but the state has no such control in private facilities as of now.
On Jan. 26, 2015, the Legislative Legal Office put forth the opinion that the Department of Health and Social Services is delegating the general powers and duties of the state (DHSS) to private psychiatric facilities with an insufficient state standard of care. AS47.30.660—AS47.30.670—AS47.30.825—AS47.30.847—and AS47.30.900.
Approximately 3,000 people each year in Alaska undergo a forced psychiatric evaluation or treatment due to a court order. Additionally, over 7,000 Alaskans wind up in a locked psychiatric facility or unit in or out of state through other means.
The psychiatric patient grievance law AS47.30.847 was passed to protect patients in the grievance process. The eleven rights given to psychiatric patients in AS47.30.840 was passed to protect patients in locked facilities. The gender choice of staff for intimate care law AS18.20.095 was passed in part because psychiatric patients were being traumatized while undergoing intimate care. These three laws have no state enforcement mechanism and they do little or nothing to protect psychiatric patients.
The state of Alaska is turning disabled psychiatric patients over to private facilities with insufficient state oversight. Private psychiatric facilities are not required to provide statistics of the number and type of psychiatric patient complaints or injuries, or traumatic events experienced by patients.
House Bill 172 and Senate Bill 124 will expand the number of locations that can detain, evaluate and treat a person in crisis and expand the amount of time patients are held. Patient rights must be added to these bills and a requirement for private psychiatric facilities to provide the state and the Legislature with patient statistics and outcomes.
• Faith J. Myers is author of the book, “Going Crazy in Alaska: A History of Alaska’s Treatment of Psychiatric Patients.”