Mental Health in Washington

Prompted in part by a series of violent incidents, The News Tribune spent a year delving deeply into the state of Washington’s mental-health system, which costs taxpayers more than $500 million each year. We started with questions. How did the system work? Who made the key decisions? What was changing? How much did it cost? Who profited, who was accountable, and who suffered as a result? Above all, were people with mental illness getting the treatment they needed?

Answers, gathered during a yearlong quest for public records, scores of interviews and straight shoe-leather reporting, were dispiriting. The state’s mental-health system, ravaged by a series of state budget cuts, was bleeding. Among other things, we uncovered a mushrooming trend of people with mental illness parked in hospital emergency rooms without the treatment guaranteed by law. The stories below outline those and other findings.

We're not done. Mental health is an ongoing issue. As the 2014 state legislative session opened, Frank Chopp, state Speaker of the House, started his remarks with these words, inspired in part by our coverage: "This year, we must focus our attention on helping those with mental illness and those with disabilities. It is a disgrace to park people in hospital hallways. It is a disgrace to let the homeless mentally ill die in the streets. This has got to end."

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