Thermopolis Independent Record - Your source for news in Hot Springs County

Town suit against county dismissed

 


A suit filed by the Town of Thermopolis against the Hot Springs County Commissioners has been dismissed by Wyoming’s Fifth Judicial District Judge, John Fenn.

The suit revolved around the differences in interpretation of the statutes surrounding Title 25 patients, with regard to “who pays for what”.

Title 25 refers to patients who are detained by law enforcement who may be a danger to themselves or others and are made to undergo involuntary psychiatric treatment (WY Stat 25-10-110).

Before the suit was even filed, the town had requested an interpretation of the statute from the State’s Attorney General, but was told that was not possible. That left the town with no other option than to file the lawsuit in order to get a formal interpretation.

There was a small monetary issue included in the suit with the town requesting reimbursement from the county for police officer’s time spent watching over the Title 25 patients at the hospital, along with costs incurred for transportation to a mental health facility outside the city limits, generally the Wyoming Behavioral Institute (WBI) in Casper.

Judge Fenn analyzed the statutes surrounding Title 25 and produced a summary judgement that gives a clear interpretation for both the town and the county to work from.

According to the summary, “Title 25 does not require law enforcement officers to provide standby services or to transport the patient to another facility. Nor does the statute authorize a county attorney or hospital to ‘order’ law enforcement agencies to provide these services.”

The town sees this as a success for them as Mayor Mike Mortimore said, “We don’t have the manpower to sit on them for days.”

Further, the summary says, “It would be inconsistent with the intent of the statute to find that Title 25 allows the Police Department to choose which patients it will provide standby and transportation services for, and then bill the County for these services, without a written agreement or any prior notice to the County that it would be billed for these services.”

“We don’t disagree with this,” Mortimore said. “This supports our argument that we are not bound to provide the services.

“We would like a pool. We are very willing to work with the county on an agreement.”

It all comes back to manpower, though, an issue that may have few answers.

One thought is bringing in volunteers and training them to sit with and transport Title 25 patients. Another idea could be using off duty officers or possibly former, retired officers for the duty.

Part of the issue, too, is the lack of a safe place to house the Title 25 patient while undergoing observation or being held before transportation to a mental health facility.

Something that might lessen the financial burden for both sides would be the addition of a safe room at the hospital. Mortimore said that would definitely be something to discuss with the new hospital board to see if a safe room could be added to their remodel.

“This really is an unfunded mandate,” County Attorney Jerry Williams said. “It is a huge problem inadequately addressed by the state. We don’t have the resources (on either side) and the state hasn’t provided a system. We’re stuck using stop-gap measures.”

Williams is concerned that the citizens under Title 25 are the ones who are going to suffer if something isn’t done, and his $25,000 per year budget for Title 25 doesn’t go a long way.

“We need some serious dialogue with the hospital,” Williams said. “How can we do this most cost effectively? We really should be complementing each other.

“We need to have open dialogue with everyone involved and look at other options.”

WBI has now added closed circuit TV in their rooms, which could cut down on travel costs. As it is now, the patient is taken to WBI, then brought back to Hot Springs County for a hearing, transported back to WBI, then returned to the county again for sentencing.

Three round trip costs could be eliminated with the closed circuit TV as it could be used for long-distance hearings and sentencings.

The summary judgement dismisses the case, including the financial request for reimbursement, and gives both sides a spot to go forward from.

 

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