Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wpic Rampage Prompts Changes County Memo Clarifies Rules on Involuntary Commitment to Mental Facilities

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Wpic Rampage Prompts Changes County Memo Clarifies Rules on Involuntary Commitment to Mental Facilities

Article excerpt

Allegheny County's Department of Human Services is clarifying for physicians its role in the process of involuntary commitments to mental facilities as questions remain about reaction to a troubling encounter John F. Shick had with UPMC staff less than a month before his March 8 shooting rampage at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

In a two-page memo detailing state law, DHS's Behavior Health Office noted that while county mental health delegates can authorize an involuntary commitment of someone deemed dangerous to themselves or others, they cannot override the authority of a physician or a police officer from doing the same. Such an involuntary commitment is known as a "302," named for the authorizing section number in the state's Mental Health Procedures Act.

The actions and authority of mental health delegates have come under scrutiny by the county district attorney's office, which said its probe of the Western Psych attack found at least one incident in which it appeared a physician's attempt to involuntarily commit Shick was blocked by a county delegate.

In an emailed response to questions from the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, which obtained the memo being distributed to hospitals and mental health agencies, DHS said: "If we become aware of any confusion regarding processes or procedures, we clarify and educate those involved. As a result of the questions raised after the incident at WPIC, it became increasingly clear that we needed to issue a 302 clarification throughout the system regarding the county's role in the commitment process by physicians."

District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., whose office is conducting a wide-ranging investigation into the Shick mass shooting, said Friday he was pleased to see the clarification. He said it states the law correctly and eliminates apparent confusion that 302 commitments by doctors and police officers must be approved by county delegates.

Mr. Zappala said he had met with county Executive Rich Fitzgerald to discuss his concerns about misconceptions regarding the county's role in the involuntary commitment process that his investigation of the Shick shooting had uncovered. …

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