Arizona State Hospital remains a pain point; solutions seem limited despite issues

By Kathy Ritchie
Published: Monday, January 9, 2023 - 4:37pm
Updated: Tuesday, January 10, 2023 - 8:40am

arizona state hospital
Arizona Department of Health Services
The Arizona State Hospital was originally called the Insane Asylum of Arizona when it opened in 1887 at 24th Street and Van Buren in Phoenix.

The Arizona State Hospital, which provides psychiatric care for those with serious mental illness, continues to be a pain point for the state. Some say it needs to be extricated from the Arizona Department of Health Services, which both runs and regulates it.

The legislative council that makes recommendations about the Arizona State Hospital met last week to follow up on recommendations and make additional ones. The hospital provides psychiatric care for those with serious mental illness. Members heard from the sister of a man who was sent to the hospital in 2021.

Sommer Mutter’s brother was court-ordered to the Arizona State Hospital for treatment. He was on medication, but shortly after his arrival, they were changed. 

"He started to become aggressive and agitated. I pleaded with the treatment team to put him back on the original medications," she told the council.

She says they ignored her. Mutter even met with the hospital’s chief medical officer.

"I was met with her harsh and cruel answer of we supersede your guardianship and we make all of the decisions now."

Mutter says her brother was on seven different psychiatric medications while there. 

Will Humble was also at the meeting. He’s the former head of the Arizona Department of Health Services. He says the hospital is operated and regulated by the ADHS.

"And that translates into telling your licensing staff to go easy on the state hospitals, so that you don't have a long list of deficiencies that end up embarrassing the governor and the health director," he said. 

Humble says at the end of the day, accountability is the biggest issue.

"There has been a problem with accountability at the Arizona State Hospital going all the way back to 1974. Prior to 1974, the Arizona State Hospital was run and operated using an independent board," he said. 

When DHS was formed, the hospital fell under its purview.

"And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that that's a very bad governance model. It goes to the core, that old saying, the fox watching the henhouse," Humble said. 

The state hospital has frequently been in the news due to patient deaths, complaints and resident on resident attacks. The council made additional recommendations including whether the hospital should be operated by an independent board.