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This Is Crazy

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

May 11, 1998
It's a busy day for Stan Israel. He mails a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, explaining what happened. The same day, a judge issues a temporary restraining order against Israel's sister, prohibiting her from coming any closer than 500 yards from him. It's Israel's way of making sure his sister doesn't make any more calls.

He also visits Lutheran Medical Center to get his records. In almost every situation, a hospital must release records to a patient requesting them, but there is an exception: If medical personnel feel that the patient will harm himself or others as a result of receiving his records, they can turn him down. That's what the hospital did in this case.

Israel returns to work. But he feels as if his boss is treating him differently, and he resigns a week later.

At the end of May, the ACLU contacts Stan Israel.
It takes until August before a third-party reviewer concludes that Lutheran's release of Israel's records would be "unlikely to have a significant negative psychological impact on him."

In the fall of 1998, the ACLU's legal panel accepts Israel's case, and in November the organization begins trying to place it with a cooperating attorney. For a while, the ACLU spent some time exploring "whether the emergency-room physician, going on information from the sister, had enough information to hold him involuntarily, when at least one portion was refuted immediately--that he had been drinking," says ACLU legal director Mark Silverstein. "The police officers immediately knew that piece was inaccurate. Should that prompt extra caution in evaluating and relying on the rest of the information?"

But the ACLU dropped the case in May. "To the extent that lawsuit would be questioning the action of a physician who authorized the 72-hour hold, we felt we needed to talk to people in that exact professional specialty and get their opinion on it," Silverstein says. "We checked with two who felt they might have very well done the same thing."

Other doctors aren't so sure. "I don't know how they made that decision if he wasn't displaying any behavior that was a threat to himself or others," says Dr. Joan Laub, who runs a private practice that deals with the psychological fallout people endure when they've been in accidents or the victims of crime. Laub has placed patients on mental-health holds before but says she does so "rarely."

But Silverstein says the hospitals figure "it's better to be sued for false imprisonment than wrongful death. That might be good business."

Today Stan Israel lives with his girlfriend. Since he left Tru-Check, his employment stops have been brief: a few months on contract as a customer sales rep for a cable company, a stint at Just for Feet. Now he works at an auto-detailing shop and is trying to design Web pages. "I do have a problem holding a job," he says.

Recently, the members of Israel's family have begun talking to each other. The home of Israel and Beumer's parents was destroyed in the recent tornadoes in Oklahoma, and that has brought them a little closer--but only a little. Beumer "imagines it was quite frightening" for her brother to be locked up in a psych ward, but, she says, "there's no more that I can do for him. I'll have a clear, free conscience when he kills himself, 'cause I know I tried."

"It's ridiculous," Israel says of his experience. "You take their blood test, take their piss test, and you're nice to people, and they base it on hearsay. Something's wrong.

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