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I-Team: Hospitals Face Difficult Decision To Hold Mental Health Patients

TAUNTON (CBS) - The family of Arthur DaRosa says Morton Hospital did not treat him appropriately when he came to the hospital Monday for help with a mental health issue. DaRosa was discharged early Tuesday morning, the same day he went on a rampage at a Taunton mall.

The I-Team looked into whether the hospital had the right to hold DaRosa. State law says if a doctor believes a patient is a risk to himself or the public, that patient can be held involuntarily up to three days.

David Matteodo represents the Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems. He says it's a difficult decision. "It's a very serious decision. It's a clinical judgement. The doctors do a tremendous job in Massachusetts. We get an overwhelming majority of them right here. But there's no guarantee it's going to be 100 percent foolproof all the time," Matteodo said.

Hospitals are dealing with more and more patients coming to the emergency department with the potential for violence.

"We're seeing an increased violence, extremely aggressive patients. It's getting increasingly hard to staff the units," Matteodo explained.

Meanwhile state hospitals are adding psychiatric beds. Right now there are about 2500 beds for psych patients at private hospitals. At any given point, roughly 90 percent are full according to Matteodo.

Still, that would not prevent someone like DaRosa from getting help. If a person is deemed to be a threat, they are routinely transferred to a hospital that has a place for them. Matteodo says that usually happens within a day.

Morton Hospital says under federal law it "is barred from acknowledging patient names or disclosing any form of confidential patient information. This law extends to patients whose evaluations and assessments are legally required to be led and conducted by third parties selected through MassHealth."

A hospital spokeswoman says, "If the state contracted agency responsible for conducting evaluations had requested a psychiatric bed placement, there were beds available within the hospital's network."

A spokesperson for Health and Human Services said, "We are deeply saddened by yesterday's senseless and tragic events and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services will fully cooperate with law enforcement during the ongoing criminal investigation and will carefully review the details of this situation."

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