Broken system? Parents fight to get mentally ill son treatment


A few weeks ago, Marie and Jay Yates brought their son Steven to the Behavioral Health Center at St. Luke's Medical Center in Phoenix. They were at the end of their rope.

"I, more or less, just pushed my way through the door," Marie said. "I wouldn't let her close it."

Only 17, Steven had planned and threatened to commit suicide four times within 24 hours, according to his parents.

"This time, I had just had enough," Marie said.

Back in November, Steven went to the Emergency Room at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center after he tried to cut his throat with scissors.

The hospital admitted him while he waited for a bed at a mental health care facility for children or adolescents.

But 11 days later, no bed opened up, and Steven was released with nowhere to go but back home with his parents.

"I 100 percent will say that the system failed us," Marie said. "Not just us; failed my son."


This time, the Yates took Steven to the Emergency Room at St. Luke's, determined to take him to the hospital's Behavioral Health Center.

But in the ER, they were told the same thing. According to medical records provided by the family, there were no beds available.

"They weren't even going to admit him," Jay Yates said. "They were going to keep him in the ER until a bed opened up."

The Yates say doctors told them that could take up to 10 days.

"So, we said, to be honest with you, we're not going to do this," Marie said.

The Yates eventually left the ER. And, even though the hospital called Child Protected Services on them for going, they were determined to get their son treatment – no matter what.

"I took him to get help, and I've got to worry about them calling CPS on me because I took my son to the freaking emergency room, and I'm trying to take him over to the mental health facility?" Jay Yates asked. "I mean, c'mon."

After they left the ER, the Yates drove Steven less than a block away to the hospital's Behavioral Health Center.

According to Marie, a staff member opened the door when they walked up. She told her, "You might have to call the cops, because I'm not leaving".

The hospital admitted him.

Now, after years of trying, the Yate's feel like their son is finally getting the help he needs.

"I feel like a bad mom. I feel like I failed my son," Marie said. "My son's 17 years-old, and he's just now getting help."


Since the Yates have private insurance through their jobs, Marie says she had to wait until Steven was almost 18 years-old to get him on state assistance. He is now qualified for the Department of Economic Security's Arizona Long Term Care System, according to records.

Now on public insurance and not private, hospitals are required by the state health department to give him inpatient care.

Once he's legally an adult, though, Marie worries about the next time he becomes violent.

"I don't want my son to end up in jail," she said. "Because that's where they all end up." Currently, there are 485 seriously mentally ill inmates housed in the Maricopa County Jails, according to the county.

The Behavioral Health Center at St. Luke's is not a long term treatment facility, and there are very few treatment centers of that kind available.

When he's released from St. Luke's, his parents will have little choice but to bring him home again.

Statement from St. Luke's Medical Center on their policies regarding suicidal patients who are brought to the Emergency Room:

"All patients brought into the emergency room are provided a medical screening exam, including a mental health assessment in accordance with the federal Emergency Treatment and Labor Act.  Because each patient and their circumstances are unique, additional care is provided based on their individual needs."

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