A bill that would standardize the grievance process for mental health patients is moving through the State Legislature.
Rep. Pete Higgins, a Republican from Fairbanks, is sponsoring the bill. He says that mental health patients do not currently have a guarantee that providers will adequately address their complaints.
“Our corrections people have more rights than our mental health patients do. And that’s not correct,” says Higgins.
“That’s not right.”
The bill reforms the way grievances are handled in a number of ways. It would set up a 24-hour crisis line for patients and establish an administrative appeal process. Mental health facilities would be required to employ patient advocates and to use the same type of complaint forms. The bill also establishes that patients who have been treated in a locked facility for more than three days have a right to see family and friends.
Higgins says that while many treatment facilities believe their individual grievance policies are sufficient, his office is a aware of cases where medical facilities have been neglectful of complaints. A 2011 report from the Disability Law Center describes two patients at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute who were allegedly restrained inappropriately and filed grievances about the incidents. Neither complaint was addressed on schedule, and both grievance responses were missing information.
“My argument is we’ve already seen the fault of that,” says Higgins. “We’ve already seen where people have fallen through the cracks.”
The bill is currently being heard in the House Health and Social Services Committee. It has seen bipartisan support, with Democrats and Republicans signing on as co-sponsors.