Mental Patient Cannot Contest Transfer Policy

     (CN) – Commitment to a mental hospital compelled by a medical judgment does not entitle patients to a hearing within 10 days, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled.
     The Manitowoc County Human Services Department placed Samuel J.H., as he named in the court record, in an outpatient group home in May 2011. After he punched a hole in a door a few months later, that department transferred Samuel to an inpatient facility.
     It noted on the transfer form that Samuel was “increasingly delusional,” “confused” and “agitated.”
     “He repeatedly stated he put a hole in the door because ‘someone was shot down and should be taken care of,'” the form stated.
     In a letter to a county judge, Samuel said: “I am disturbed that my outpatient status was changed to inpatient without due procedure.”
     Through appointed counsel, Samuel petitioned the court to reinstate his outpatient status since he was transferred without a hearing within 10 days.
     Samuel’s social worker testified that, despite an increase in medication, Samuel had to be transferred because he was “more psychotic and more out of control to the point where he was totally delusional and punching holes in the wall.”
     She also testified that Samuel was not transferred for violating his treatment conditions, which included refraining from alcohol use and not threatening or harming himself or others.
     The court nevertheless upheld Samuel’s transfer, finding that the statute calls for a hearing within 10 days only when a patient is transferred for violating treatment conditions.
     Upon transfer from the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the state Supreme Court affirmed Thursday.
     “We hold that [the statute) ] does not require a hearing to be conducted within 10 days of a transfer when the transfer is based on reasonable medical and clinical judgment,” Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler wrote for the court.
     In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson said her colleagues did not go far enough to protect Samuel’s rights.
     “But for Samuel J. H.’s own action in sending a letter to the Manitowoc County Circuit Court, he may never have had counsel appointed and may never have had a hearing,” she wrote.
     Abrahamson commended Manitowoc County for changing its policy and notifying the state defender’s office after a transfer, meaning that a 10-day hearing usually takes place regardless of the reason for the transfer.
     “A measure of a society is how it treats its weakest members,” Abrahamson wrote. “The legislature has incorporated this ethos into the statutes, and this court should interpret the statutes to achieve the clearly stated legislative policy and purpose. The majority opinion does not.”

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