Western State Hospital will soon have a new leader, following a tumultuous period of patient escapes and notices that the state-run psychiatric facility is violating federal regulations.
Cheryl Strange will become the new CEO of the mental-health hospital in Lakewood on April 25, replacing Ron Adler.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that Adler had been terminated earlier in the day.
In a matter of months, the hospital will have hired a new CEO, operations chief, chief medical officer and interim chief nursing officer, even as the Department of Social and Health Services that runs the hospital has hired a new acting secretary and assistant secretary.
“We’ve asked this team to act with all due urgency to make sure that Western is safe and that the staff can ensure that no more dangerous patients can get away from this institution,” Inslee told reporters.
“This team must restore morale so that all staff feel confident that they can bring issues to management’s attention without fear of retaliation, and work together to give patients the care that they need and that they deserve.”
Staff fear of retaliation was among the problems federal inspectors found last year that placed Western at risk of losing millions in federal funding. The hospital faces a May 3 deadline to fix the problems.
Inspectors said the psychiatric facility had put patients at risk of psychological harm, injury and death. During a four-month period, patients and staff were getting assaulted more than four times a day, according to the inspection reports.
The announcement by Inslee comes the week after two patients who were committed at the hospital escaped through a key-locked window.
One of the patients, 28-year-old Anthony Garver, previously was accused of killing a woman by stabbing her 24 times and cutting her throat. Garver boarded a bus from Seattle to Spokane, where he was found two days later.
The other patient, Mark Alexander Adams, was found a day after his escape.
Police said the two men had spent months tampering with the bolts on the window so they could open it.
Adler arrived on the job in summer 2013. Hours before he was fired, Adler spoke to the Lakewood City Council about how he hoped to work with city officials in the future.
He said his team was taking steps to improve the hospital with help from new funding for staff and infrastructure provided by Inslee and the Legislature. A turnaround will take time, he said.
“The problems that we’re faced with haven’t happened in the last 24 to 36 months,” Adler said Monday evening.
Western State Hospital nursing supervisor Paul Vilja told The Associated Press that Adler was difficult to work with.
“As a previous union officer, I met with this CEO at least two times per week for several years,” Vilja said. “At no time did I feel that he assimilated the data that was provided … In some meetings, he lost his temper and often made inappropriate comments.”
Strange, the new CEO, previously was the vice president of behavioral health at Pioneer Human Services in Tacoma. She also worked as a deputy secretary at the state Department of Corrections, as well as with the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs Western State.
At DSHS, Strange was assistant director for the mental health division from 2006 to 2008, overseeing Western and two other state mental health hospitals.
Strange is coming from her role as senior director of the Heath Benefits Trust for the SEIU 775 Benefits Group, which provides health benefits to unionized home health care workers.
State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said she thinks Strange has the breadth of experience needed to help solve federal compliance issues at Western State — something she said Strange has done at DSHS.
“She understands what it is like to work with the federal government, in terms of managing both costs and compliance issues,” Jinkins said.
Inslee’s opponent in the November election immediately criticized the choice of Strange as one unlikely to make meaningful change at the state hospital.
Saying Strange had worked at “two of Inslee's broken bureaucracies” — Corrections and DSHS — Republican Bill Bryant said in a statement that the appointment “looks more like musical chairs than a serious attempt at a culture change.”