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News / Northwest

Seeking Shelter: Son living on streets, but Longview father says he’d be safer hospitalized

By Caleb Barber, The Daily News
Published: May 27, 2024, 5:35am

LONGVIEW — Austin Morrison, 26, was hospitalized three times in the last two months after a fentanyl overdose when living on the streets, but left care when his psychiatric symptoms ignited his paranoia.

At the last center, he was involuntarily committed by Cowlitz County Superior Court, and released 14 days later, according to his father Jared Morrison of Longview.

But to his dad, that is not long enough; now his son is homeless and likely using drugs again.

“I don’t think he has the ability to recover fully in just 14 days,” said Jared Morrison, 48. “He has more needs than the average patient. The carbon copy approach to treatment is not working for my son.”

Jared Morrison said he wants his son in a treatment center, even if kept involuntarily, because he has a history of self-harm and addiction.

In Washington, 14 days is the near-minimum length for commitment unless the court or a long-term facility orders longer commitment, up to 90 or 180 days.

Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act, better known as Ricky’s Law, allows people experiencing substance abuse-related crisis to be detained involuntarily at a treatment facility, similar to if they were experiencing a mental health crisis.

Involuntary commitment is reserved for people who have a disability that prevents them from being able to provide basic needs for themselves; have violated an existing court-ordered behavioral health treatment program; or are a danger to themselves or others, according to The Washington State Health Care Authority.

Jared Morrison said his son qualifies under the latter rule.

In January he filed a petition for emergency guardianship, which would allow the court to appoint him to make decisions regarding his son’s health, safety and self-care. It also could have given him the ability to get a court order to commit his son to a psychiatric hospital or treatment facility.

As of today, the petition is at a standstill, and he said he feels helpless.

“It feels like watching your child drive a car off a cliff,” he said.

What happened?

On March 25, Austin Morrison overdosed so badly his heart stopped. He was given CPR by EMTs and was taken to an emergency room in Portland, and then to inpatient care, his father said.

After a brief stay at the hospital, Austin Morrison, who struggles with acute psychiatric symptoms along with drug addiction, ripped his IV out of his arm and left, taking a bus back to Longview.

He admitted himself to PeaceHealth; he had a large infected abscess on his ear, and he was still weary from his overdose days prior. But he grew paranoid again, and before long he left that hospital too.

He walked to his father’s house in West Longview. Jared Morrison said he let his son stay with him for a few days before officers with the Longview Police Department convinced Austin to go to PeaceHealth to treat his ailments.

Jared Morrison said after his son was admitted to the hospital, his son was then referred to involuntary care at American Behavioral Health Systems, an addiction treatment center in Chehalis. After he completed a 14-day stay, he was released, and he returned to Longview.

According to the Washington State Health Care Authority, if a committed person doesn’t stabilize within the first 120 hours of being admitted to a treatment center, the court can authorize a 14-day commitment for additional treatment, and after that the court can petition for a 90-day commitment at a long-term facility, and then a 180-day commitment.

A court didn’t order him to stay at the center longer than 14 days, but Jared Morrison said he is still desperate to find a way to do so.

For the past month since Austin Morrison has been out of the treatment center, his father said he has called police to tell them his son is at risk of falling into another crisis. But their hands are tied.

“Right now, if he isn’t actively committing a crime, the police told me that all they can do is tell him to go to the hospital,” said Jared Morrison.

Longview’s behavioral health unit, formed in 2021, has the ability to involuntarily commit people, and transport them to centers, like American Behavioral Health Systems, where Austin Morrison stayed during his last commitment.

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Behavioral Health Unit Supervisor Sgt. Tim Watson couldn’t talk about a specific person’s case, but said Longview police officers have to determine the best course of action for dealing with someone potentially having a mental health crisis. In some cases, detaining someone would unnecessarily escalate the crisis, Watson said, so the best option is often referring them to one of the mental health resources in town, like Columbia Wellness or PeaceHealth St. John Medical Center.

If someone is unable to take care of their own basic needs like eating or going to the bathroom, then police would take them to a similar facility, Watson said. Other times, it isn’t so clear.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time when I go out and sign off on these, officers don’t pick them up,” he said. “We have to decide whether trying to detain somebody and transporting them to a facility to detox for a few hours is worth it, and the potential harm it would cause by detaining them is often not worth it.”

The clinic Austin Morrison stayed at did not respond before deadline, but Joe Avalos, administrator for a similar facility called Olympic Health and Recovery Services in Lacey, did. Avalos said involuntary committing someone for crisis stabilization falls on a designated crisis responder, who only reviews specific requests to evaluate those who could meet the criteria for commitment.

“This is typically a high bar, as it means an individual will lose their civil rights for up to 120 hours if they are found to be in imminent danger to themselves, others, or are gravely disabled due to a behavioral health disorder,” Avalos said in an email.

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