In early December, Julie Dodge, head of Multnomah County’s behavioral health division, came to Salem with a story to tell.
Medical records are closely guarded secrets and it is extremely rare for health authorities to speak publicly. But this case upset Dodge so much that she decided lawmakers needed to hear about it. So she chose a pseudonym and dove in.
“I want to introduce you to Frank,” she told them.
Dodge first heard from Frank two months after he started work. He was locked in an isolation room in an emergency ward at Legacy hospital, deemed too dangerous to be released onto the streets, but not dangerous enough to be committed to the state mental hospital for long-term care.
For years, “high acuity” cases like Frank’s were the dirty secret of Oregon’s mental health system. As WW Detailed in last week’s cover story, Oregon has reduced the size of its psychiatric hospitals over the years but has not built the community facilities needed to replace them (“Revolving Door,” March 1). Oregon State Hospital, the state’s main psychiatric hospital, is so overwhelmed that it has begun to refuse entry to almost anyone who is not charged or convicted of a crime, and to discharge some of its patients prematurely.
The result is that people like Frank with severe mental illnesses are placed in prisons and emergency rooms, which administrators say offer little or no treatment and which disability advocates consider a violation of their civil rights.
Sheriffs and non-profit hospitals say they don’t have the resources to deal with people like Frank, so they drive them back onto the streets – where their behavior soon attracts the attention of the police, who send them back into isolation.
Frank’s story illustrates the fallout from the state’s new early release policy, says Dodge, which allowed Oregon to open up beds in its overcrowded hospital, shifting the burden to similarly overstretched local health systems. The system fails people like Frank, she says, who need round-the-clock care and can only get it, in brief bursts, by committing acts of violence.
“It increases system-wide costs and increases system-wide risk,” Dodge told lawmakers. “These decisions affect real human beings.”
It’s rare to learn the full story of people who walk through the system’s revolving door – they make brief, ominous headlines and then disappear. But after Dodge publicly testified about Frank, WW traced its history.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager, Frank has been hospitalized a dozen times since then — most recently in January, after spending a year in the state hospital, the maximum time allowed under the new policy. (He is one of more than 40 patients the hospital has notified the Multnomah County Circuit Court that it has been sending home since the policy took effect last September.)
Dependent on medications he doesn’t want to take and unable to carry out daily tasks, Frank has become increasingly unable to lead a normal life outside the hospital.
When he is hospitalized, he attacks employees. When he’s released, he hurts random people on the streets – or himself. The violence got worse.
Prosecutors say Frank wants to return to Oregon State Hospital and has learned that the only surefire way to be admitted is to commit violence. His defense attorney says he has been in prison far longer than his crimes deserve and that his charges should be dropped.
He is now in the Multnomah County Jail, but he cannot be kept there much longer. And the county has nowhere to send him.
Frank is 38 years old. His real name is Joshua McCurry. His story showcases a system that has failed both him and the people he encounters.
McCurry was 5 years old when his family moved to Portland. He showed promise as a Little League pitcher and briefly attended Grant High School before mental illness destroyed his life.
At 19, he was sent to a psychiatric ward after threatening his family. It was the first of a dozen hospitalizations and arrests, says his mother, Bobbie Hazelwood. WW. McCurry refuses to take the prescribed antipsychotic medication and goes back and forth between institutions.
His mother fears for his life every time he is released. In his late 20s, McCurry walked out of a hospital and days later jumped off an overpass on Interstate 405.
“He’s a sweet guy. He’s a funny guy. He loves his family,” says Hazelwood. “We all love him to death.”
But his mental illness is a danger not only to himself, but also to the community. Court records show that McCurry has been repeatedly accused of violent acts in recent years.
In early 2020, he attacked a Providence emergency room nurse and three security guards with his fists and teeth, spitting blood as they handcuffed him to a wheelchair.
County officials tried to send him to Oregon State Hospital, Dodge told lawmakers, but the state said he was not dangerous enough to warrant admission.
All other places proved unsuitable for McCurry’s condition.
In early 2021, after living in several budget motels and being arrested for five burglaries, McCurry was admitted to Legacy Health’s dedicated psychiatric hospital, the Unity Center for Behavioral Health. But it’s also overcrowded and not designed for long-term stays, and McCurry soon left the house. His next stop that year was one of the few safe residential treatment facilities: Arbor Place, a 16-bed clinic in northeast Portland that at the time was certified to use restraints and administer medication involuntarily, one of the few SRTFs to perform this procedure. designation.
But McCurry didn’t last long there either. Within months, he had put another patient in a chokehold and groped a staff member.
McCurry was once again left at the Legacy, where he stayed for two weeks before being kicked out on August 13, 2021.
Later that day, McCurry punched a pregnant mother in the face outside the downtown Pioneer Place mall. Bystanders held McCurry until police arrived. The woman was taken to the hospital for stitches.
Traumatized, she hasn’t spoken to anyone about it since. she asked WW do not post her name. “I wish there was more attention to mental health in Portland,” she says. WW. “It doesn’t need to be pampered – it needs to be cared for.”
McCurry was booked into jail and released shortly after the incident. “I’m going to keep hitting people,” he told police.
And he did. Only after attacking a police officer was McCurry finally sent to Oregon State Hospital.
A week after attacking the pregnant woman, McCurry punched a security guard who was having lunch near a downtown bus stop. When the police arrived, McCurry shot one in the eye, earning him a felony charge.
Two months later, a judge finally ruled that McCurry was unfit to stand trial.
He would spend most of 2022 at the state hospital.
With just a week to go before McCurry’s mandatory one-year expulsion, a state psychologist finally obtained medical records from his stays at Providence and Legacy. There, the nurses noted, McCurry appeared to be acting up in hopes of being sent to OSH. The psychologist concluded that McCurry’s violent outbursts were due to a “personality disorder,” not psychosis, she testified in court.
The hospital was throwing him out. Not that it mattered: it would have mattered anyway under the new early release policy.
McCurry’s public defender says his allegations should be dismissed. He spent far more time in jail awaiting trial than he ever would have spent in prison had he been convicted of his crimes, argued Rosie Achorn-Rubenstein.
Judge Nan Waller disagreed. “Firing should be used sparingly,” she said on Feb. 15. Now she had to figure out what to do with him.
Waller turned to McCurry, in prison uniform and handcuffs with a big red slash above his nose. He seemed to improve when he was on medication, she noted. Would he be willing to keep taking it if she let him go?
“I will not be forced to take medicine, I don’t believe in that,” he said. “I stand for it.”
On Monday, Waller determined that McCurry was “capable” of aiding and abetting, keeping him in the justice system — for now.
His next court appearance is scheduled for later this month. He remains in prison and will likely be sentenced to parole.
If McCurry ends up alone, which seems likely, his mother fears the worst. The two talk daily on the phone.
“I am very, very concerned that this is my son’s last attempt,” said Bobbie Hazelwood. “If they just throw him out, I think it will end Josh’s life.”