A state Senate panel has recommended significant changes in how mental health patients are transported in South Carolina, four months after two patients drowned in the back of an Horry County Sheriff’s Department van.
Mental Health Initiative Subcommittee Chair Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said the proposal will require transporting officers get increased training and increase the leeway which departments have in making the trips during dangerous weather.
“We have coalesced around a bill that will change South Carolina law, if enacted, on how we transport people who have been diagnosed and committed for help,” Kimpson told senators on the floor last week.
Two former Horry County detention officers are charged with involuntary manslaughter after state investigators said they did not follow their assigned route and drove through floodwaters. Two patients who were being transported for care in the Midlands died after they were trapped in a back compartment.
The package of recommendations last week would require any officers transporting mental health patients for non-criminal trips to be part of a “therapeutic transport unit” with training in mental health and crisis intervention. It would also require a doctor responsible for the patients’ care to notify family members that they have the right to transport a patient first, before law enforcement is contacted.
The subcommittee sought to revamp state laws which require hospitals use law enforcement to transport mental health patients who could create “serious harm.” The admission requires a judge’s order. The two Horry County officers had been taking patients Nicollette Green and Wendy Newton to facilities further inland when their van became stuck in floodwaters near the town of Nichols in September 18.
Current state law provides for three days between a doctor’s order that a patient presents a danger tho themselves or others. Kimpson said the newly-filed bill will clarify that the three-day limit can be extended during a natural disaster to three days after conditions are deemed “safe for transport.”
“We all look forward in a bipartisan way to addressing what happened on September 18,” Kimpson said. “So that no person in this state undergoes a totally preventable tragedy like what happened.”