Bed shortages in Texas psychiatric hospitals delay treatment

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Hundreds of Dallas County Jail prisoners have been waiting for more than two years for a bed in a public psychiatric hospital.

DALLAS— Inside the Dallas County Jail, there are more than 360 prisoners deemed unfit to stand trial awaiting a bed in a state mental hospital.

On average, an inmate found unfit to stand trial waits about 795 days to get a bed in a maximum security state hospital. The waiting time for an inmate in the same situation is approximately 230 days.

“The wait is incredibly long,” defense attorney Stara Roemer said.

A judge declared one of his clients incompetent in February 2021. The judge ordered that he be sent to a public psychiatric hospital for treatment. He is still waiting in prison more than 460 days later.

“There are no end in sight,” Roemer said. “And that’s another one of the problems…you literally have no idea when their number is finally going to be called.”

The WFAA first detailed the long wait times for public hospital beds in 2016highlighting the case of Thomas Johnson.

Johnson, a former Texas A&M football playerambushed and hacked to death a White Rock Lake jogger in 2015.

A judge had declared the diagnosed schizophrenic unfit to stand trial and ordered that he be sent to a psychiatric hospital, but there had been no bed available for months.

“When there aren’t enough beds, it’s a crisis that I think we all have to go through worried,” his then-lawyer Jennifer Balido said in a 2016 interview.

Johnson was eventually granted a bed at a state mental hospital and eventually stood trial for murder. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in 2019.

For years, wait times have been long, but state officials say those wait times have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

In 2020, the wait time for a maximum security bed in Texas was 270 days. It has now been 514 days, state officials said.

The wait time in 2020 for a minimum security bed was approximately 3.5 months. It is now 230 days, or 7.5 months, according to state officials.

Currently, more than 2,300 people are waiting for a public hospital bed in Texas county jails.

While these prisoners wait for a bed, it’s up to the county taxpayers to pay the bills while they languish in jail.

“This is unacceptable,” Dallas County Commissioner Theresa Daniel said. “I don’t care how you cut it.”

Daniel told the WFAA that it costs about $67 a day on average for the county to house a prisoner. But if an inmate needs health care or mental health services, the cost jumps to around $120 a day.

“Do the math,” she said. “It is very expensive.”

In the Bexar County jail, more than 220 prisoners wait on a public mental hospital bed. That’s nearly double the number from a year ago, said Mike Lozito, director of the county’s Office of Criminal Justice Policy, Planning and Programs.

Lozito said the state was failing in its responsibility to “restore the skills of individuals so they can stand trial.”

“The person is waiting” for treatment, Lozito said. “Sometimes they wait longer than their sentence would be…Because of their mental health issues, they don’t have their fair day in court.”

He says that it is the state that has the responsibility to solve the problem.

State officials say they have worked to increase the number of beds. Seventy maximum-security beds are added to Kerrville, and there are plans to build a psychiatric hospital in Dallas with about 25 beds.

However, that number will come a long way from solving what has been a systematic problem for years, critics say.

“It’s not a good situation for everyone. counties and it really puts everyone in a crisis,” Lozito said.

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