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Gates Police Chief suspends sending mental hygiene arrests to Strong Hospital

The Gates Town police chief announced on Monday that he will no longer send individuals who are taken into custody for a mental health crisis to Strong Hospital.

Chief Jim VanBrederode said it's a temporary pause until the hospital implements a standardized discharge procedure and follow-up care plan for mental hygiene arrestees. It does not affect other medical trauma transports.

“The emergency room is a level-one trauma unit that has saved two of our officers' lives,” he said. “So, this is kind of heartbreaking to have to say this, but when it comes to the substance abuse and mental health services that they’re providing to our community, we’re a little concerned.”

Those arrested for mental health crises will instead be taken to Rochester General Hospital.

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In a letter to Dr. Ben Lee, chair of the University of Rochester’s psychiatry department, which oversees Strong Hospital’s psychiatric care, VanBrederode cites three examples since July of what he calls a “revolving door” policy. One in which patients are released only for the same behavior to result in another 911 call.

The most recent case happened last Monday when a 20-year-old man was arrested for damaging property while on an unknown substance. He was taken to Strong for a mental health evaluation. Hours later he was released. The family placed another 911 call when he returned to the house, smashing windows.

“We are tired of being put into these dangerous situations,” Vanbrederode said in his letter. “We are tired of being the 'enforcers' and being asked to do the 'dirty work' of the broken Mental Health system. We are tired of doing the same thing over and over only to get the same results.”

In a joint statement, URMC and Rochester Regional Health said that all hospitals in New York must follow the state’s mental hygiene law for inpatient psychiatric admissions, which prevent providers from keeping patients involuntarily unless certain criteria are met.

"These are community challenges that require community solutions, and it is not accurate to suggest that taking patients to one hospital over another will result in better outcomes for the families we all serve," URMC and RRH said in a statement.

The hospital is currently under investigation by the Joint Commission of Hospital Accreditations for the psychiatric treatment of Daniel Prude in March. Prude had been seen for a mental health evaluation hours before police encountered him naked on a snowy night acting erratically. Prude suffocated while restrained and died a week later.

Law enforcement and mental health care have to both function in order for mental hygiene arrests to work, VanBrederode said.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.
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