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Gates Police halt use of Strong for mental health arrests


The Gates Police Department will temporarily stop sending individuals who are taken into custody for a mental health crisis to Strong Memorial Hospital, Chief Jim VanBrederode announced Monday.

VanBrederode said that the pause will last until the hospital implements a standardized discharge procedure and follow-up care plan for mental hygiene arrestees. It does not affect other medical trauma transports.

“The emergency room is a level-one trauma unit that has saved two of our officers' lives,” he said. “So, this is kind of heartbreaking to have to say this, but when it comes to the substance abuse and mental health services that they’re providing to our community, we’re a little concerned.”

Those taken into custody through a mental health arrest will instead be transported to Rochester General Hospital.

VanBrederode sent a letter to Dr. Ben Lee, the chair of University of Rochester’s psychiatry department, which oversees Strong Hospital’s psychiatric care, explaining his decision. He cited three examples since July of what he called a “revolving door” policy where patients are released within hours, only for the same behavior to result in another 911 call.

The most recent case happened last Monday when a 20-year-old man was arrested for damaging property while on an unknown substance, VanBrederode said. The man was taken to Strong for a mental health evaluation and hours later he was released. The family placed another 911 call when he returned to the house and smashed windows.

“We are tired of being put into these dangerous situations,” read Vanbrederode's letter. “We are tired of being the 'enforcers' and being asked to do the 'dirty work' of the broken mental health system. We are tired of doing the same thing over and over only to get the same results.”

In a joint statement, URMC and Rochester Regional Health said that all hospitals in New York must follow the state’s mental hygiene law for inpatient psychiatric admissions, which prevent providers from keeping patients involuntarily unless certain criteria are met.

"These are community challenges that require community solutions, and it is not accurate to suggest that taking patients to one hospital over another will result in better outcomes for the families we all serve," URMC and RRH said in a statement.

Strong is currently under investigation by the Joint Commission of Hospital Accreditations for the psychiatric treatment of Daniel Prude in March. Prude had been seen for a mental health evaluation and then released a few hours before police encountered him naked on a snowy night acting erratically. Prude suffocated while officers restrained him. He died a week later at Strong.

Law enforcement and mental health care have to both function in order for mental hygiene arrests to work, VanBrederode said.

Noelle E.C. Evans is a reporter for WXXI News, a media partner of CITY.