PHOENIX — Despite repeated issues and deaths, Arizona’s publicly run psychiatric hospital will remain under the control of the state health department after an effort to create a new governing board was gutted this week.
For months, Senate Bill 1710 advanced through the legislature with near unanimous support.
But because of a threatened veto from Governor Katie Hobbs, lawmakers abruptly amended the bill on the House floor this week and fundamentally changed its aim.
“I’m really disappointed this was changed at this eleventh hour when so much work had gone into this,” said Rep. Barbara Parker in response to the change after her vote. “The (Arizona State Hospital) system has to be completely changed and reformed.”
In an email, Rep. Steve Montenegro told ABC15 why he introduced the floor amendment.
“I sponsored the amendment at the request of the bill sponsor, (Sen. David Gowan), to reflect what was negotiated by the Senate with Governor Hobbs’ office to prevent a veto.”
A spokesperson for Gov. Hobbs confirmed the office raised concerns about the bill.
Proponents of the original bill said it eliminated a fundamental flaw: The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS) should not be in charge of the same hospital it is also required to inspect and regulate.
The state hospital is Arizona’s only publicly run psychiatric facility. It’s located at 24th and Van Buren streets in Phoenix and has about 300 civil and forensic patients.
In recent years, ABC15 has obtained records, videos, and photos from multiple critical incidents, including a homicide, suicides, and an escape. But those incidents have not shown up in public inspection reports or resulted in deficiencies and enforcement actions.
“I think that’s exactly what we’re getting at,” said Josh Mozell, an attorney who has represented dozens of patients at the state hospital. “These things continue to happen and we have the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Former health department director Will Humble, who now runs the Arizona Public Health Association, was a strong proponent of the bill.
He testified in support of the bill at multiple hearings this year.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you shouldn’t be regulating the same place that you’re running,” Humble said during a February hearing. “It’s the easiest thing in the world for someone in that position to decide to go easy because they don’t want things to look bad. They don’t want to have a bad inspection report.”
Contact ABC15 Chief Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@ABC15.com.