Attempt to provide more Arizona State Hospital oversight gutted after veto threat

Part of a bill would have removed the hospital from DHS control and given it its own five-person independent governing board, but Hobbs threatened to veto it.
Published: Jun. 21, 2023 at 6:12 PM MST|Updated: Jun. 22, 2023 at 5:56 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Gov. Katie Hobbs has gutted an effort to address the increasing violence at the Arizona State Hospital. The hospital is home to some of the sickest patients in the state’s mental health system. Arizona’s Family has reported not only on the high number of assaults happening inside but also patient suicides and even a homicide.

Right now, the hospital is both run and regulated by the Arizona Department of Health Services. Part of a bill would have removed the hospital from DHS control and given it its own five-person independent governing board to look into the root causes of some of the issues happening there.

But lawmakers stripped that portion of Senate Bill 1710 after Hobbs threatened to veto it. So now it has a different guideline and does not include the piece addressing more direct oversight. The bill had a lot of bipartisan support as it made its way through the Legislature. It first passed through the Senate 27-2. The House Health and Human Committee then unanimously passed it.

Because of the concerns from the governor, an amendment was made to the bill on the House floor. Rep. Steve Montenegro, a Republican from Litchfield Park, introduced the amendment. “I sponsored the amendment to SB1710 at the request of the bill sponsor, Senator Gowan, to reflect what was negotiated by the Senate with Governor Hobbs’ office to prevent a veto,” he said in a statement.

A former employee at the Arizona State Hospital, or ASH, was hopeful for change after they were assaulted while working. They left the field they were passionate about because of this incident. “It’s very disheartening, very concerning, and very sad,” they said. “The hospital is not run properly and hasn’t been for a very long time.”

Digging through reports, Arizona’s Family found this person wasn’t alone. Over the last six years, there have been more than 500 assaults each year. ASH defines assaults are unwanted touching or other physical contact. Last year, more than 800 assaults were reported. That’s more than two a day.

Will Humble is the former director of DHS. He says the hospital needed to be removed from DHS control for better oversight. He was frustrated to hear that part of the bill was gutted. “We are going to have the same governance structure, nothing has changed. You still have the fox watching the henhouse for who knows how long,” Humble said. “There have been a few suicides, one homicide, some escapes right here at the hospital. Then you have the DHS licensing team going out and saying no deficiencies noted. That isn’t right.”

Annual reports from the last six years reveal there have been more than 500 assaults each year. Last year, that number spiked to 841 assaults.

Here is what the bill will do. Right now, to receive a court order for mental health treatment, you have to have a petition filed by two physicians. Now, in rural counties with 500,000 people or less, it’s a little different. You can submit a petition for treatment from a physician and either one physician assistant or a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner. Bill sponsor Sen. David Gowan, a Republican from Sierra Vista, says this will help while the state deals with a shortage of physicians.

“Sadly I’m afraid we’ve lost an opportunity here,” Humble said. The Governor’s Office says the original bill would have been an unfunded mandate that would have increased costs without achieving her goals. They added she will be putting $3.5 million into next year’s budget to increase security there. “I think we are all very disappointed and it’s extremely concerning. I don’t know how many more people have to die,” the former employee said.

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