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This Is Crazy

Stan Israel spent two days in a psych ward. There was just one little problem.

8 a.m.
At breakfast Israel stares at pancakes and juice. A nurse asks why he's not eating. He explains that he hasn't had much appetite since he arrived. Is there something you'd like for lunch and dinner? she asks. His heart races: He might just be here for good.

He goes to his room and weeps. Then he pulls himself together. Norwood has already told him that mingling with the others will help his chances of getting out. He goes to a weekly meeting of patients to discuss living conditions. Norwood comes in and gives him a quick glance but doesn't acknowledge him again. Another bad sign, he thinks. The meeting lasts an hour. He keeps his mouth shut, hoping he won't be at the next one.

11:45 a.m.
Norwood tells Israel that she spoke with Israel's mother, who lives in Oklahoma. Norwood says Israel's mom has told her that he is a problem child and that she's scared about what he might do.

Israel promises Norwood that he'll get rid of his gun as soon as he gets home. She hands him his discharge report. It reads: "Mood disorder--not specified." She had to put something down, she tells him.

"Do you need family counseling?" she asks.
"I could probably use some," he says.
She writes down the name of a psychiatrist and tells him to call if he wants to make an appointment.

2 p.m.
More TV, a few more cigarettes. Norwood finds Israel and says she's talked to J.J. about his release and that J.J. is glad he's okay. Norwood tells him he's been caught in the "crossfire" of a dysfunctional family. He should try to protect himself from letting this happen again, she says.

His psych evaluation indicates that Israel is "calm, cooperative" and without any "overt mood instability, vegetative or manic or psychotic symptoms."

He fills out a final questionnaire, receives his keys and leaves. He walks up Colfax, stops for some money at a 7-Eleven ATM, buys a Gatorade and waits for the bus. "This is bullshit," he thinks to himself on the ride home.

According to the Colorado Revised Statues, a person can be placed under an involuntary emergency-mental-health hold if he appears to be mentally ill and is an imminent danger to others or to himself, or appears to be gravely disabled. In recent years, several court decisions have congealed to create an additional standard known as "potentiality." Now, if doctors fear a person is not currently but soon will become an imminent danger to himself or others, he can be held against his will.

The State of Colorado does not keep records on the number of mental-health holds at private health-care facilities, but it does track holds placed by the state's three largest public mental-health centers--which account for the majority of such holds. In fiscal year 1998, Denver Health Medical Center admitted 837 patients against their will (the Fort Logan Community Mental Health Center made 352 such holds, and the Pueblo Mental Health Center made 459). A small number of individuals are released after 72 hours, while the majority voluntarily consent to additional treatment.

Lutheran Medical Center has declined to answer several specific questions about Stan Israel. Instead, the hospital issued a statement reading: "We believe that Mr. Israel's case was handled appropriately and with the utmost care. The assessment conducted in the Emergency Department was proper and thorough. Both the Emergency Room physician and the psychiatrist on call agreed with the procedure recommended in this case." Dr. Lewis did not return several phone calls from Westword seeking comment. The VA's Dr. Norwood has also declined to speak with Westword.

Denver Assistant City Attorney Morris Evans defends institutions in cases like these. He thinks the potentiality standard--which makes it easier to hold people against their will--is a good idea.

"If you're saying you don't want dangerous, mentally ill people in the community unless they're treated, ipso facto you have to include the concept of potentiality," Evans says. "Otherwise, you have to wait until something happens, and then it becomes a criminal matter."

That Israel volunteered to go to the hospital may not have helped him, either. "A person does it with the intention of doing the right thing," says one physician who asked not to be identified. "The emergency room perceives that this guy wouldn't come down unless he was really distressed."

May 8, 1998, 4:30 p.m.
Stan Israel arrives home. He is relieved, dead tired, grimy and pissed.
He heads straight to the shower to clean up. Israel is free, but far from satisfied. For days he cannot eat much, can't sleep. He has nightmares of being locked up. He wants to take his revenge: lawsuits against Lutheran for keeping him against his will, against his sister for reporting false information, against the cops--surely they knew what was going to happen and lied to him to get him to go along.

The Lakewood police will not discuss the specifics of Israel's case. Agent Mary Munger, one of the officers who transported Israel to Lutheran, has no comment for Westword; her partner, Agent Tracy Lee, did not return several phone calls seeking comment. Lakewood police lieutenant John Camper, who oversees officers on patrol, speaks generally about what happens when his officers respond to a potential mental-health call. "Maybe it's a pendulum," he says. "On one end, you have what the person is saying; on the other, you have what the reporting party is saying. You have to weigh them. It's not an exact science. I would very much doubt that [an officer] would say, 'Let's straighten this out.' That would be an odd thing to say. For crying out loud, what gets straightened out at a hospital? But I just don't know."

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