COURT WATCH: Wrong Insurance, Bed Unavailability, One Clean Test Keeps Accused from Obtaining Treatment – Judge Acknowledges ‘Backwards System’ 

By Audrey Sawyer

MODESTO, CA — A Thursday early case management conference hearing here in Stanislaus County Superior Court involved a man who has been repeatedly coming up against various roadblocks attempting to join treatment programs.

Obstacles, like refusal based on insurance, denial based on one clean drug test, and bed unavailability, were all noted by Judge Carrie Stephens, who seemingly empathized with the accused’s struggle, citing the lack of mental health services seen within Stanislaus County.

After acknowledgment of the accused’s multiple attempts to make an effort to be placed into a program, Judge Stephens referred the accused to mental health court.

Deputy Public Defender Neil Zientek told the court that the accused’s father was currently in the courtroom and able to address the situations arising with getting the accused in a treatment program.

The accused’s father explained he had taken the accused twice to DMC (Doctors Medical Center) and twice to DBHC (Doctors Behavioral Medical Center), to which they had vocalized an unavailability of beds, advising both the father and the accused to go to the emergency room.

His father continued to tell the court that they were at the emergency room for over two hours, but left without being assisted because of the wait.

The next program they attempted to contact involved more direct work regarding drug addiction, which the accused’s father argued, “After arriving at this program after he has packed and already met his roommate, we get a call telling us to come back in an hour. They drug tested him. The test conducted came back clean. They will not take him since the result came back clean.”

Judge Carrie Stephens pointed out that the system seemed “so backwards” after the accused’s father told her how rough it had been for him to be missing work, exhausting to prepare his son and that the call they cannot take him “does not make any sense.”

The father added there was a referral for Tulare, but the father called another facility and said they were still trying to figure out the budget, calling it a bumpy road.

“I think that your struggle is not unique. We have such an imperfect system of care for our mentally ill population. Substance abuse disorder often comes with illness. It is just terrible the lack of services that we (Stanislaus County) has. I think DPD Zientek might have some client support in his office that could provide some assistance,” Judge Stephens said.

However, DPD Zientek explained to the court that the program often only accepts candidates who are on MediCal, and the accused in this matter is under a different insurance.

“There is no current offer. I asked Deputy District Attorney Melissa Chichportich to refer him to the mental health court, but she is not normally the assigned deputy to this case, it belongs to DDA Palazuelos,” said Zientek.

Chichportich admitted the absence of Palazuelos had not been planned and did not have the chance to review the case, stating, “I did not realize that the court had ordered for mental health court for him to be assessed. I did tell DPD Zientek that if something were to be provided to show progress, it would change.”

Judge Stephens pointed out the accused has made efforts. The accused is now referred to mental health court, where the accused will meet with a treatment team. Since the accused is not currently in custody, the accused will then be evaluated (June 7) for mental health court eligibility.

DDA Chichportich tried to ask the court to make the accused attend either one AA or NA meeting per week, but Judge Stephens emphasized that they did not want to further inconvenience the accused’s father, ultimately adding that it is acceptable if the accused attends sessions remotely.

About The Author

Audrey is a senior at UC San Diego majoring in Political Science (Comparative Politics emphasis). After graduation, Audrey plans on attending graduate school and is considering becoming a public defender.

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