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AGO 1958 No. 154 - February 10, 1958
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- RESPONSIBILITY FOR CARE OF MENTALLY ILL PATIENTS PENDING COMMITMENT.

CITIES, TOWNS, COUNTIES ‑- AUTHORITY TO CONTRIBUTE COST OF REMODELING ROOMS IN PRIVATE NONPROFIT HOSPITAL FOR CARE OF PSYCHOTIC PATIENTS PENDING COMMITMENT.

PSYCHOTIC PATIENTS ‑- RESPONSIBILITY OF CITIES AND COUNTIES FOR CARE PENDING COMMITMENT PROCEEDINGS.

(1) Cities, towns and counties may not contribute funds to a private hospital for remodeling rooms to provide facilities for the care of psychotic patients pending commitment proceedings.

(2) Responsibility for the cost of detention care is the responsibility of the patient's spouse or children, if financially able, otherwise the county is responsible.

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                                                                February 10, 1958

Prosecuting Attorney of Kitsap County
Kitsap County Court House
Port Orchard, Washington                                                                                  Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 154

Dear Sir:

            You have requested the opinion of the attorney general on the following questions:

            1.  "May cities and towns of all classes, as well as the county of Kitsap, contribute to a non-profit [[nonprofit]]hospital the cost of providing facilities for the temporary care of psychotic patients who are physically ill while in custody awaiting mental illness proceedings?"

            2.  "Who is liable for the cost of care of physically ill psychotic patients while in custody awaiting mental illness proceedings?"

            We answer your first question in the negative.  In answer to your second question, the patient's spouse or children are responsible, if financially able; otherwise the county must pay the cost of detention pending commitment.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            From the information contained in your letter, it appears that the proposed contributions of the cities and towns of Kitsap County and that of the county, itself, would be used for remodeling rooms in a private, nonprofit hospital to meet the needs of alleged mentally ill persons.  As a result, the consequent benefits and ownership of such improvements would inure principally to the private, nonprofit hospital.

            Thus, the question is whether the proposed plan violates Article VIII, § 7, of the state constitution, which provides:

            "No county,city, town or other municipal corporation shall hereafter give anymoney, or property, or loan its money, or credit to or in aid of any individual, association, company or corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm, or become directly or indirectly the owner of any stock in or bonds of any association, company or corporation."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            InJohns v. Wadsworth, 80 Wash. 352, 141 Pac. 892, the supreme court interpreted a statute which provided that an incorporated agricultural fair association created for the purpose of holding a fair and the exhibition of stock, cereals and agricultural produce could apply to the board of county commissioners for a grant to pay expenses and premiums.  The Western Washington Fair Association made application to the county commissioners of Pierce County for funds and was granted the sum of $3,586.19.

            The action of the county commissioners was challenged as being contrary to Article VIII, § 7, of the state constitution, quoted above.  The supreme court in deciding the constitutional issue, stated as follows at page 354:

            "The section of the constitution last quoted [Article VIII, § 7], in most express terms, prohibits a county from giving any money, property or credit to, or in aid of, any corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm.  If the framers of the constitution had intended only to prohibit counties from giving money or loaning credit for other than corporate or public purposes, they would doubtless have said so in direct words.  That agricultural fairs serve a good purpose is not questioned, but the constitution makes no  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] distinction between purposes, but directly and unequivocally prohibits all gifts of money, property, or credit to, or in aid of, any corporation, subject to the exception noted. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            The question then arises as to whether such a contribution would be ". . . for the necessary support of the poor and infirm . . ."

            Granting, without further analysis, that psychotic patients who are physically ill come within the exception to the constitutional prohibition, it does not follow logically that a municipality could contribute funds to a private hospital to pay the cost of remodeling rooms to meet the needs of such persons.  In our opinion, such a contribution would amount to a giving of money to a private corporation for something other than the "necessary support of the poor and infirm" and constitutes the making of a gift or the loaning of the credit of a county or city contrary to Article VIII, § 7, of the constitution.

            However, under the provisions of RCW 71.02.130 (1957 Supp.), in counties having a county hospital, a portion of such hospital is to be set aside for the detention and observation of mentally ill persons.  The statute further provides that:

            ". . . in all counties having no county hospital, the court may designate as a detention ward the nearest state hospital for the mentally ill or such other place of detention and treatment as it may deem suitable for the purpose of this chapter, . . ."

            Accordingly, the court may designate the nearest state hospital as the place of detention or even the private, nonprofit hospital in question.  If the court designated a private, nonprofit hospital as the place of detention and if funds are expended by the hospital to provide the necessary facilities for the care of such mentally ill patients, the cost of furnishing such facilities would be a factor in determining the rate to be charged by the hospital for care pending commitment proceedings.

            In answer to your second inquiry, RCW 71.02.230, as amended by chapter 24, Laws of 1957, provides in so far as pertinent as follows:

            "After a person has been found mentally ill under RCW 71.02.200, the court shall, . . . inquire into the ability of the person's estate, or his spouse, parents or children, or any combination thereof, to pay the charges for transportation  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] and hospitalization in a state hospital,detention pending proceedings, and court costs.  If the court finds that the patient's estate or above named relatives, or combination thereof, are able to pay such charges or any part thereof, an order to such effect shall be entered. . . . If the court finds that neither the patient's estate nor above relatives can pay charges for detention pending proceedings or court costs, such costs shall be borne by the county. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            That statute requires the patient or his estate, or his spouse, children, or a combination thereof, to pay the costs of the detention pending proceedings, if financially able to do so; otherwise, such costs must be borne by the county of the alleged mentally ill person's residence.

            We trust that this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

STEVE WAY
Assistant Attorney General

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