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Fri., March 1, 2013, 7:53 a.m.

House panel approves teen mental health custody bill

Physicians and nurse practitioners soon may have the authority to order juveniles who are suicidal, severely mentally ill or pose a threat to others into temporary custody at a hospital or some other health care facility, the AP reports; a bill approved Thursday by the House Health and Welfare Committee would streamline a process that now requires law enforcement involvement.

Idaho Medical Association lobbyist Ken McClure said the bill is modeled after existing law that gives doctors permission to hold severely mentally ill or dangerous adults for up to 24 hours. But state statute currently offers nothing specific for detaining with dangerous juveniles, forcing doctors to default to rules requiring consent by law enforcement before juveniles can be placed into short-term custody. "It seems curious that a doctor has to call a policeman, get agreement and then detain a juvenile," McClure told the committee. "It seems an unnecessary step." Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.

House panel approves teen mental health custody bill
By TODD DVORAK, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Physicians and nurse practitioners soon may have the authority to order juveniles who are suicidal, severely mentally ill or pose a threat to others into temporary custody at a hospital or some other health care facility.

A bill approved Thursday by the House Health and Welfare Committee sets out to fix a void in Idaho law and streamline a process that now requires law enforcement involvement.

Idaho Medical Association lobbyist Ken McClure said the bill is modeled after existing law that gives doctors permission to hold severely mentally ill or dangerous adults for up to 24 hours. But state statute currently offers nothing specific for detaining with dangerous juveniles, forcing doctors to default to rules requiring consent by law enforcement before juveniles can be placed into short-term custody.

"It seems curious that a doctor has to call a policeman, get agreement and then detain a juvenile," McClure told the committee. "It seems an unnecessary step."

The Idaho Medical Association does not track how many juveniles are assigned to temporary custody each year, but he said it occurs more frequently in Idaho's bigger cities and typically involves juveniles deemed suicidal or diagnosed with severe mental illness.

Three Republicans on the committee voted against the bill, citing concerns about the lack of parental consent at the time doctors would make a custody decision.

Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Nampa, said for families in rural Idaho — areas typically lacking in appropriate mental health or hospital holding facilities — the measure could create economic distress if a child is transported hundreds of miles away to the nearest safe spot.

"We have cost and parental concern issues here," said Hixon, who voted against the bill.

But McClure and the committee's two physicians tried to allay those worries, noting custody decisions must often be made quickly. The bill also requires health care professionals to notify parents or guardians their child has been detained "as soon as possible" and does nothing to alter the existing framework of mental health rules and parental rights that kick in after juveniles are detained.

"The way it works in real life is you notify law enforcement. The police show up, and they say, 'Doc, what do you think?'" said Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, the committee chairman and a licensed physician with emergency room experience.

"That, to me, seems to be an unnecessary step," Wood said. "I've never seen physicians abuse that authority. And what it does now is take away precious law enforcement time."


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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