A state committee studying Washington’s two psychiatric hospitals has recommended shifting hundreds of civil, or noncriminal, patients to other regional facilities to address safety and capacity issues.
The committee’s advice is the latest attempt to improve Western State, an approximately 800-bed facility in Lakewood that has faced a series of documented problems in providing quality and timely care to patients in need of mental health treatment.
It also reflects a growing consensus at the Legislature that Western State should address some of its issues by not serving most civil patients in the future and instead focus on a growing population of criminal forensic patients.
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“We don’t agree on everything but what we’re trying to do is at least get the message out that this is critical and these are things we think are important,” said state Sen. Randi Becker, about the recommendations.
Becker, a Republican from Eatonville, serves on the committee and is the Republican’s caucus chairwoman.
In his 2017 budget plan, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed such a change, phased in by 2020. He also would build nine new 16-bed regional state-run psychiatric facilities to house civil patients. Inslee contends the plan will bring down wait times for all patients and help with safety problems.
Though key lawmakers from both parties agree with Inslee’s plan to build beds in the community for civil patients, they have not yet agreed on the specifics of how that could be accomplished and how much it would cost.
The committee’s recommendations do not offer a concrete proposal for where the civil patients should get treatment other than in “community settings,” which could be state-operated, or state-reimbursed facilities scattered throughout Washington. There are currently 830 beds for civil patients at the two state hospitals.
It also does not offer a time line for Western State to move away from serving civil patients.
The letter notes the committee intended to provide a “framework for future work in this area.”
Inslee has made improvements to Western State and the mental health system a top priority for this legislative session.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler was asked at a news conference last week where the issue ranks as a priority for Republicans. The Ritzville Republican said: “It’s darn high.”