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State hospital works to reduce wait



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The number of defendants declared incompentent to stand trial who may end up in jail while waiting for beds to open up in the state hospital has been reduced, state officials said.

The Provo hospital has 359 beds, with 100 of those dedicated to people who have been involved in a criminal court proceeding.

In the past, about 20 criminal defendants were on the waiting list, with wait times for a bed stretching to as long as 10 weeks.

A 2007 state audit recommended that the hospital speed up procedures for admitting and discharging those patients. It also suggested charging counties a fee if they did not arrive on time to pick up whose competency had been restored.

"Implementing those strategies was actually very effective," said Utah State Hospital administrator Dallas Earnshaw.

Beginning in March of this year, the average number of people on the waiting list started to decline and hit a low of seven in August. The waiting time was reduced to about five weeks.

Despite increased communication among the courts, jails and the hospital, there are still occasional slip ups.

Phillip Joseph Simmons, 36, who is charged with first-degree felony murder in a Bountiful slaying, was found to be mentally incompetent and was ordered into the hospital in May, but there was no space for him.

He remained in the Davis County Jail until his Sept. 23 hearing, when a judge put him at the top of the waiting list.

Davis County assistant prosecutor Rick Westmoreland said "some miscommunication" involving the hospital resulted in Simmons staying at the jail so long.

"My experience was this was just a glitch, and not a systemic problem," Westmoreland said. "I have not run into this with other cases. Sometimes there's a waiting period, but my experience is more the four- to five-week kind of thing."

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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