Moving mentally ill a concern in Lakewood

New state license would allow in-home facilities to care for those released from hospitals such as Western State

Staff writerMarch 9, 2014 

The city of Lakewood and some residents are concerned about a new state license that would allow in-home facilities to care for people who no longer need inpatient treatment at state-run hospitals.

Residents of the city’s Oakbrook neighborhood, which borders Western State Hospital, are worried their community will become a “dumping ground” for patients they fear could be dangerous without the security of the hospital.

“I understand that we have mentally ill patients that have to make a transition back into society, and I support that,” said Oakbrook resident Eric Greeson, one of about 10 opponents who showed up at Monday’s City Council meeting.

“But as a father, as a homeowner, I am concerned about the appropriate housing of these individuals in our neighborhood,” Greeson said. “I am concerned about the disproportion of the houses that are already in my community.”

Lakewood has 62 adult family homes, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services website. Twenty-four of them fall in the Oakbrook neighborhood that winds around two golf courses and is a short distance from Fort Steilacoom Park and Western State Hospital.

Lakewood has little control over where adult family homes are located, said the city’s development director, David Bugher. Even so, the City Council passed a resolution last week opposing the inclusion of adult family homes as facilities that could be licensed to offer enhanced care for these patients.

The council’s opposition will be forwarded to the state, City Manager John Caulfield said.

Oakbrook residents worry their neighborhood’s existing adult family home operators would apply for the enhanced licensing.

But officials at DSHS say it’s unlikely many adult family homes would make the conversion. They say nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have shown greater interest so far.

Officials also doubt that any one neighborhood would have multiple facilities because there’s only enough state money right now to place 42 people, and licenses would be granted on both sides of the state.

“We’re talking about a very small population,” said Bea Rector, director of Home and Community Services at DSHS.

Each home could have no more than 16 patients, leaving the possibility that only three facilities receive licenses, Rector said.

She said the state needs a solution for patients who are essentially “stuck” at the state hospitals in Pierce County and near Spokane.

“There are individuals who are at Western or Eastern State Hospital who are not in need of psychiatric care or inpatient treatment,” Rector said. “These are folks that we don’t have a current community setting that could meet their needs.”

The Legislature directed DSHS to create the new enhanced licensing process in its budget last year, said Rep. Tami Green, D-Lakewood.

“If we can get these folks out of Western State, then we can get the folks who need to be there in there,” said Green, a registered nurse who has worked at Western State.

“The gist of what we’re doing is to get people the right care at the right place at the right time. Since these are the really hard-to-place folks, these would likely become their homes.”

The state is accepting public comment on the proposed license and regulations. It has put out inquiries to see if anyone is interested in operating one of the new facilities, but has not formally requested applications.

Ten companies expressed initial interest, Rector said. None are based in Pierce County, and two are adult family homes.

Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities are better equipped to offer the level of care and staffing these patients would need, Rector said.

An adult family home could not operate as both an adult family home and an enhanced services facility, said Irene Owens, interim director for Residential Care Services, which oversees adult family homes in the state.

People who would be placed have yet to be identified, but they could include those with dementia or traumatic brain injury, Rector said.

The regulations under review require at least two staff members on duty at all times, including a licensed practical nurse; a registered nurse on duty at least eight hours a day and on call the rest of the time; and a mental health professional on site at least 16 hours a day.

The facility also must provide staff that can handle mental health and chemical dependency treatment, personal care, medical treatment including psychiatric care, and security, according to the draft regulations.

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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