State Supreme Court Rules Psychiatric Boarding Illegal

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- The state Supreme Court has ruled that people with suspected mental health problems cannot be held in emergency rooms and hospitals when certified mental health facilities are already full.

The court on Thursday unanimously upheld a ruling by a Pierce County judge.

The state's involuntary treatment act allows counties to briefly detain people suspected of having mental problems who present an imminent risk of harm to themselves or others, or are gravely disabled. The detention is for the purpose of evaluating, stabilizing and treating the disorder.

However, Pierce County frequently lacked enough space in certified evaluation and treatment facilities, and regularly resorted to temporarily placing those it detained in emergency rooms and hospitals. That is a practice known as "psychiatric boarding."