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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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House collectively passes ‘Joel’s Law’

Law allows petitions for involuntary care

Chad Sokol Murrow News Service

OLYMPIA – Rep. Tom Dent urged his colleagues to pass “Joel’s Law” by recalling his son’s tense standoff late last year with Spokane County sheriff’s deputies.

A patient of severe bipolar disorder, Monty Dent went missing for several days last year after stealing a family car, and Tom Dent feared he was suicidal. After letting his father know where he was, Monty Dent was arrested by Spokane County deputies.

The Moses Lake Republican used the incident as a reason to change state law and allow friends and family to petition courts for a person’s involuntary psychiatric care. The bill, unanimously passed Thursday, is named for Joel Reuter, a Seattle man with severe bipolar disorder fatally shot in 2013 during a standoff with police after his parents had tried for weeks to have him committed. It’s one of many proposals to improve the state’s faltering mental health system.

Monty Dent, 22, had a gun when deputies surrounded the car in Spokane.

“I want to give a shout-out to those Spokane deputies, because they could have shot him, and they didn’t,” Dent said.

Rather than take him to jail, the deputies took Monty Dent to the psychiatric ward at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center.

“They recognized he had issues,” Dent said.

While Tom Dent is pleased his son got treatment, he thinks Joel’s Law could have achieved that sooner. Supporters say the law could prevent mental illness-related tragedies.

Lawmakers are under state and federal court orders to set aside more money for psychiatric care. A shortage of beds and qualified staff has forced many patients to wait days, even months, for treatment. Others wait in jail, where they don’t receive adequate care. Judges call the practice psychiatric “boarding.” Mental health advocates call it “warehousing.”

After nearly three weeks at Sacred Heart, nurses deemed Monty Dent well enough to be released. But Dent said the treatment wasn’t enough.

“They got him back on his medication and he was better, but he wasn’t fine.” On Dec. 12, the night he was released, Monty Dent stole another car from their home and drove away down a rural road. Grant County deputies pulled him over within 15 minutes.

“He is still in the Grant County Jail,” Dent said. “We are still struggling to find him psychiatric help.”

Legislation similar to Joel’s Law is pending in the Senate.

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