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The argument for separating Arizona State Hospital from the health department

The Arizona State Hospital has been criticized pretty much since it opened in the late 1800s. To be fair, state mental hospitals don’t get high marks almost anywhere. They are charged with protecting some of society’s most vulnerable people — and, often, some of the most difficult. 

But in Arizona, there’s an obvious challenge on top of the rest. Since 1974, the agency that runs Arizona State Hospital is also the agency that oversees it.

It’s the fox guarding the hen house. The Arizona Department of Health Services runs the hospital and is responsible for its oversight. 

But now, there’s a bill making its way through the state Legislature aimed at changing that. Senate Bill 1710 would create an independent board to oversee the hospital. And it has the backing of at least one former Department of Health Services director who has firsthand experience trying to do both of these jobs. 

Will Humble is executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association now. He ran the Department of Health Services from 2009 to 2015 under then-Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, where he faced scrutiny for his oversight of the hospital at times. He told The Show that inherent conflict is a big potential problem that should change. 

The Show also reached out to the Arizona Department of Health Services about this bill. In a statement, the agency said "ADHS cannot comment on matters under consideration by policymakers."

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.