- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2016

BOSTON (AP) - A hospital that treated a man before he fatally stabbed two people and wounded several others at a home and mall said Thursday that it was barring a state contractor that provides mental health evaluations.

In a letter to state officials, Morton Hospital said the contractor, Norton Emergency Services, was putting patients at risk by not providing “critical and timely services.”

The hospital did not reference the case of Arthur DaRosa, the assailant in the stabbings. His family said he had been battling mental illness in recent months and was suicidal and depressed when he checked himself in to Morton Hospital on Monday evening. He was released Tuesday morning and hours later fatally stabbed an 80-year-old woman in her home and a 56-year-old teacher dining out at a mall with his wife before being shot and killed by an off-duty sheriff’s deputy.

The hospital took the action against Norton Emergency Services unilaterally after it failed to evaluate several patients in its emergency department in a timely way Thursday morning, and the hospital was “rebuffed or ignored” when it offered to perform the evaluations themselves, a spokeswoman said in a statement.

A message left with a spokeswoman for the contactor was not immediately returned.

Norton Emergency Services is run by the state Department of Mental Health and is one of four Emergency Services Program providers operated directly by the state.

The hospital said earlier that state policy governing the way it handles psychiatric patients was “misguided.” It said the state should review and revise policies that require outside third-party vendors to evaluate and recommend the treatment provided to Medicaid patients in emergency departments. The hospital said its own psychiatrists and clinicians should be allowed to assess patients.

Morton also said psychiatric beds were available Monday.

“If the state contracted agency responsible for conducting evaluations in the emergency department had requested an admission to a psychiatric bed, there were beds available within the hospital’s network,” said Julie Masci, a spokeswoman.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker declined Thursday to address specifics of the case or current state policies, but promised the state would investigate procedures.

“This was a horrible, terrible tragedy and emotions are running high and there is a lot of information out there,” Baker told reporters. “The thing we need to do is figure out exactly what happened and why and then make adjustments based on that to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

DaRosa’s aunt Liz DaRosa said the killings could have been prevented had the hospital kept him longer rather than discharging him.

State Sen. Jennifer Flanagan, co-chair of the Legislature’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Committee, said the fact that a bed was available suggests there were other reasons DaRosa was discharged from the hospital - perhaps because he asked to be released or because the doctors who examined him felt it was safe.

“We walk a very fine line between holding people against their will and allowing them to make their own decisions,” said Flanagan, adding that no one could have anticipated the violence in this case.

State policy allows for a psychiatric evaluation to determine if a person can be hospitalized involuntarily for a period of up to three days. The hospitalization can be ordered if the evaluation determines there is a likelihood of “serious harm” because of mental illness.

The state Department of Mental Health operates an emergency services program that responds to the Morton Hospital emergency room upon request, officials said.

Arthur DaRosa left his daughter’s soccer practice on Tuesday evening, crashed his car and then entered a home at random and stabbed two women, Bristol District Attorney Thomas Quinn III said. Patricia Slaving, 80, later died.

He then drove to the Silver City Galleria mall several miles away and stabbed two people in a Bertucci’s restaurant, Quinn said.

George Heath, 56, a high school visual arts teacher, was stabbed trying to defend a waitress, and he died.

DaRosa was shot and killed by off-duty Plymouth County Sheriff’s Deputy James Creed.

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This story has been corrected to show that the hospital, not the state, said psychiatric beds were available Monday.

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