Lack of care: Valley parents search for help for their mentally ill son


Marie Yates was at work when she got a call that would change her life.

It was her son Steven's school. "My son cut his throat with scissors," she said. "I almost fell to my knees."

A suicide attempt; it was her worst fear come true.

Steven has struggled with schizophrenia, autism and bipolar disorder for years. This wasn't his first attempt at suicide, but it did show his parents just how far he would go.

"He wants it over with," Marie said. "He don't [sic] want to feel this way no more."

Steven is 17 years old. He gets violent with teachers and with his parents.

"He'll throw desks, throw chairs, he'll bite, spit, kick, punch," his father, Jay Yates, said. "I've seen him run out in the middle of streets and cars just barely missing him and me pleading for him to come back to me."

His throat cut, the Yates took Steven to the emergency room at Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center, where he was admitted.

The plan was for him to go from there to one of the few inpatient psychiatric health centers in the Valley for treatment.

But, "that wasn't what happened," Marie said.

"What happened is 11 days later, we're sitting there in the hospital wondering why my son was never placed anywhere," Jay said.

Medical records show doctors at the hospital diagnosed Steven as needing inpatient care at a psychiatric facility multiple times. The hospital tried to get him admitted to one multiple times, as well.

But, he didn't go. Instead, he was eventually discharged after his medications were stabilized, according to medical records.

Why? "They told us the beds were full," Marie said.


It's a problem more Arizona families are facing today, according to Emily Jenkins, CEO of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers.

"We are woefully short of beds, inpatient beds, for children," she said.

Jenkins says, in recent years, with state-wide budget cuts that put hospitals in the red, resources for mentally ill children in our state have severely diminished.

"The hospitals, then, are careful about the children they do take in because they have to make sure that there will be some source of payment," she said.

That payment can be hard to come by, she said, especially for families stuck in the middle.

"It's almost like the middle class, working family who has insurance may be the most disadvantaged," she said.

Jenkins says wealthy families can afford private insurance plans that cover mental health and disadvantaged families qualify for public programs.

But, the rest of the families are left with little help. "They're desperately looking for some place that can take their child that can provide the help they need," she said. "And they can't always find it."


It's a problem the Arizona Department of Health Services says they became of aware of last year. But, while they oversee all hospital licensing, they can't tell private hospitals what to do.

"Private hospitals are just that – private," according to Dr. Steven Dingle, MD, Chief Medical Officer for the Division of Behavioral Health Services.

Under the public health system, mentally ill patients who qualify have access to many behavioral health programs under the Department's Division of Behavioral Health Services.

Hospitals began reporting to the Department of Health that there were delays in placing children who were brought to emergency rooms needing behavioral or mental healthcare earlier this year. Dr. Dingle, then, worked with hospitals to find out what was causing the problem.  

"There are delays," he said, "that the children's units and the adolescent units are at capacity, and that there are waiting lists for children to get beds."

As a result of his work with hospitals, the state is now working with behavioral health partners to help ease the problem. In public hospitals, they are reinforcing protocols already in place to help emergency room personnel access the behavioral and mental health programs. They also established a single contact phone number for personnel to call set up treatment.

But, they cannot force private hospitals to do the same.


Steven will turn 18 this year. Once he's legally an adult, Marie and her husband worry they won't be able to protect him from himself – or from law enforcement.

"If he ends up in jail, [or the] state mental hospital, I'll feel like I've failed him," Marie said.

With her insurance coverage for mental health, Marie has had trouble getting Steven the kind of specialized treatment he needs.

But, families who have health insurance should be getting some help soon. When the Affordable Care Act went into effect, January 1, 2014, it requires private health insurance companies to cover mental health care the same way they cover physical care. But, experts tell us that could be a slow process.

There is no state law detailing how private hospitals should treat suicidal patients. Scottsdale Osborn Medical Center told ABC15 every suicidal patient is admitted and seen by a Behavioral Health Specialist.

Full statement from Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn Medical Center on their Emergency Departments' policies:

If a patient cannot be transferred to a mental health facility directly from the Emergency Department for their safety, they will be admitted to an inpatient room for further evaluation by a behavioral health specialist, who will help determine the appropriate next steps. The patient must be seen by a physician to assure there are no medical concerns before being transferred to a mental health facility or sent home if there are no further safety concerns.

NEXT PAGE: Complete list of resources


National Alliance on Mental Illness of Arizona

Arizona Teen Lifeline – (602) 248-TEEN  

Arizona Suicide Prevention Coalition

Family Involvement Center

Magellan of AZ

Crisis Hotlines (via the Arizona Department of Health, Division of Behavioral Health):

24-Hour Crisis Hotlines – National

1-800-SUICIDE –  HopeLine Suicide Hotline

1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Suicide/Crisis Hotlines by County

1-800-631-1314 and 602-222-9444 (Maricopa County)

1-800-796-6762 or 520-622-6000 (Pima County)

1-866-495-6735 (Graham, Greenlee, Cochise and Santa Cruz Counties)

1-800-259-3449 (Gila River and Ak-Chin Indian Communities)

1-866-495-6735 (Yuma, LaPaz, Pinal and Gila Counties)

1-877-756-4090 (Mohave, Coconino, Apache, Navajo and Yavapai Counties)

Arizona Department of Health, Division of Behavioral Health links


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