Archive for Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Mental health patient gets 48 hours in jail, one year probation for attacking Lawrence ER nurse

The Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room sign is shown in this file photo from 2008.

The Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room sign is shown in this file photo from 2008.

October 25, 2016

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A Lawrence municipal judge on Tuesday sentenced a man being treated for mental illness to 48 hours in jail, followed by one year of probation for physically attacking an emergency room nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in July.

Dale Beaulieu apologized for the assault in court, saying he has since received treatment for bipolar disorder at Osawatomie State Hospital and continues to receive treatment at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center in Lawrence.

But ER nurses at the hospital say such attacks have become routine in recent months, especially as mental health patients now often stay in the ER for days waiting for beds to become available at Osawatomie State Hospital. And many ER workers have said they now fear for their safety at work.

Charlie Ross, left, a mental health advocate, and Frank Ronan, right, an emergency room nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, talk outside the Lawrence Municipal Court building Tuesday after a mental health patient was sentenced for battery against Ronan. LMH nurses say they are routinely subject to attacks by mental health patients, many of whom stay in the emergency room for days before they can be transferred to Osawatomie State Hospital.

Charlie Ross, left, a mental health advocate, and Frank Ronan, right, an emergency room nurse at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, talk outside the Lawrence Municipal Court building Tuesday after a mental health patient was sentenced for battery against Ronan. LMH nurses say they are routinely subject to attacks by mental health patients, many of whom stay in the emergency room for days before they can be transferred to Osawatomie State Hospital.

"This happened to me, and it happened to be a person in a mental health crisis," said Frank Ronan, the victim in Beaulieu's case. "But violence occurs in the ER on a fairly regular basis, and we want the penalties for violence in the ER to reflect other people who are in the line of fire such as police and first responders."

As they did in an earlier hearing in September, several LMH employees showed up for Beaulieu's sentencing Tuesday to show their solidarity and to raise awareness about the dangers ER workers often face on the job.

But so too did a number of mental health advocates, including Charlie Ross, who described himself as Beaulieu's best friend and a fellow client at Bert Nash. He said he and others were concerned about what he called "criminalizing mental illness."

In pronouncing the sentence, Judge Scott Miller spoke about the legal and moral conflict Beaulieu's case represents.

"There are a lot of competing interests in this case," Miller said. "One interest, of course, is for someone like you to receive the best mental health treatment you can receive."

"There is also interest in a case like this for someone who's providing medical care," he continued, "that they don't have to be a perpetual victim of violent activities because they don't sign up for sustained violence that they face a lot of times."

Outside the courthouse, Ross, wearing a yellow T-shirt bearing the words "Mental Lives Matter" across the front, shook hands with Ronan and talked about the case.

"I don't want this to be an instance of ER versus mental health," Ronan assured Ross. "It's ER versus workplace violence."

"When you're holding people in crisis for 100-plus hours, if they're mentally fragile at the beginning of that time, where are they going to be at the end of 100 hours?" he said.

Ross, meanwhile, praised Judge Miller's handling of the case.

Beaulieu was given an underlying sentence of 180 days in jail, but he will only have to serve two of those days before he is released on a year's probation, and he will remain free as long as he complies with the terms of his probation. He was also ordered to pay a $400 fine, plus various court costs.

"I think Dale is truly remorseful," Ross said. "He wanted to serve the two days for battery and he wanted to be on probation. I think he's done everything he can to own up to his responsibility, which many of us do that in our situations."

Comments

Michael Kort 1 year, 1 month ago

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Bill Turner 1 year, 1 month ago

This is an unfortunate outcome for all parties involved when the people who are really to blame are in Topeka. People think tax cuts and budget cuts are going to result in less government waste. News flash: the waste will always be there, but it is critical services for vulnerable people that take a major hit. When people like Beaulieu don't get the help they need, nurses like Ronan wind up suffering the consequences. Now, instead of paying for Beaulieu's treatment initially, we get to pay for his incarceration (hopefully it is only 2 days), all the time taken by officers of the court and law enforcement, and whatever workers comp claims and lost time resulted from the attack - the cost of this one incident is tremendous when compared to what it might have cost to prevent it. If the burden to society of paying for the aftermath is greater than the upfront costs of treatment, how can we allow this lunacy (on the part of lawmakers) to continue?

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