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Is Lakewood the right place for a new half billion dollar, 500-bed psychiatric hospital?

Former Fort Steilacoom Golf Course is a possible location for new state hospital

Gov. Jay Inslee wants $7.5 million in the capital budget this year for pre-design of a new state hospital, which will help determine if the former Fort Steilacoom Golf Course is a good location for a new 500-bed facility.
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Gov. Jay Inslee wants $7.5 million in the capital budget this year for pre-design of a new state hospital, which will help determine if the former Fort Steilacoom Golf Course is a good location for a new 500-bed facility.

Gov. Jay Inslee wants to explore building a new 500-bed Western State Hospital to serve people who receive psychiatric evaluation and treatment as part of criminal cases, and a site getting attention is a defunct golf course next to the aging facility in Lakewood.

The governor has asked legislators to approve $7.5 million in the capital budget to be adopted this year to do pre-design work. That work would determine if the state should spend $25 million in 2021-23 on the new hospital’s design and $528 million from the 2023-25 budget to construct it. If so, the proposal calls for the new Western State to open in 2025.

Inslee included the $7.5 million in the budget “without any predetermined ideas about if or where a potential new forensic hospital would be sited,” said spokeswoman Tara Lee. “The pre-design will inform both the if and where questions.”

Sean Murphy is an assistant secretary for the state Department of Social and Health Services, which runs the hospital. Murphy echoed Lee.

“No site has been established yet; we’re at the beginning of a long marathon,” he said.

Inslee’s proposal to investigate whether to replace the state’s largest psychiatric hospital coincides with his sweeping proposal to overhaul the state’s mental health system, which has been plagued with crises over patient care. It also comes as Lakewood officials push for changes in state law to address what they say is a disproportionate number of adult family homes in their neighborhoods.

DSHS officials say it would cost $560 million to build a new Western State Hospital. Renovating the current facility would cost from $568 million to $1.3 billion over 20 or more years, officials said. The hospital maintains 45 buildings on 150 acres.

“Even if existing buildings were remodeled to meet code, the existing buildings, infrastructure and layouts would still result in spaces poorly configured for treatment and recovery,” according to a written presentation that Murphy and another DSHS official made earlier this month to a committee that monitors the state’s mental health system.

The Western State presentation included pictures of “failing” electrical systems, water tanks, elevator shafts, valves and water heaters and building exteriors.

Inslee also has proposed spending $33.5 million for infrastructure and buildings improvements at Western State and $46.5 million to address short-term bed shortages and add modern treatment space, said Lee, the governor’ spokeswoman.

“If a new facility is built, there are still capital improvements needed to aging buildings and infrastructure at Western State,” Lee added.

The federal government last year pulled annual funding of $53 million from Western State after the facility failed an inspection. Infractions included the restraint of a patient for hours without cause and an insufficient number of sprinklers in parts of the hospital. Western State said in 2016 it would make safety and qualify of care improvements to comply with federal standards.

In addition, Western State has housed a high percentage of civilly committed patients deemed healthy enough for discharge but still kept at the facility as they await outside housing.

Inslee has said he wants to close nearly all civil commitment beds at Western State and Eastern State Hospital near Spokane by 2023. The two state psychiatric hospitals would continue to provide treatment to so-called “forensic” patients who are part of a criminal case or who have been found not guilty by reason of insanity.

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The closed club house is seen at the now-closed Fort Steilacoom golf coursein Lakewood, Wash., on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The state is proposing a new 500-bed state hospital built on the now-closed Fort Steilacoom golf course. The governor wants $7.5 million in the capital budget this year for pre-design of a new state hospital. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

GOLF COURSE POSSIBLE SITE

The former Fort Steilacoom Golf Course is marked as the site of a future 500-bed forensic hospital and a 150-bed hospital for civilly committed patients on a draft document prepared by an architectural firm hired by the state. The 12-page document — which bears both the name of the architectural firm, SRG, and DSHS — is part of a $400,000 updated master plan for Western State that should be completed in May.

Inslee has called for construction of three 150-bed civil hospitals around the state and proposed spending $8.3 million in the upcoming capital budget to get those projects moving.

“There is not a proposal at this time to build a 150-bed civil hospital adjacent to the new 500-bed hospital, although that may be the outcome of project planning and siting,” said Lee, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Lakewood City Manager John Caulfield said in an email to The News Tribune: “Based on the conversations and materials provided to the city of Lakewood, the state is considering the option to construct a new Western State Hospital on the Fort Steilacoom golf course that is located adjacent to their campus.”

Murphy, the DSHS assistant secretary, said the formal process has not begun to select where to build a new 500-bed Western State.

Rep. Steve Tharinger, a Democrat from Sequim who chairs the House Capital Budget Committee, said he sees support on the panel for providing money for pre-design for a new Western State but said it’s unclear if the amount will be $7.5 million.

Sen. Mark Schoesler, the chamber’s Republican leader from Ritzville, said the Legislature should “tread carefully” on approving the money for the pre-design work.

“This is a generational decision. Is this the way to go? If you spend the money on pre-design and design and you don’t move forward with construction, then you have flushed that money,” said Schoelser, a member of the committee which will consider the upcoming capital budget.

If the state wants to build a new Western State on the former golf course, which is state-owned land, it would need to request a change to Lakewood’s comprehensive plan and a zoning change, Mayor Don Anderson said.

Anderson, who also is senior counsel for Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, said there are infrastructure and environmental challenges in building on the former golf course. He also said the state would have to pay for demolition of Western State buildings that would become vacant and replace the open space the city would lose.

“There would be a lot of public input and a lot of interest and a lot of concern, but it’s not something that would be rejected out of hand,” he said.

Anderson said his preference would be for the state to build a new Western State that is a “bit more isolated” from residential neighborhoods. He said he supports the state constructing a 150-bed hospital in Lakewood for civilly committed patients as long as it’s part of a system of similar facilities around the state.

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The north end of Western State Hospital is seen from the Fort Steilacoom golf course in Lakewood, Wash., on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. The state is proposing a new 500-bed state hospital built on the now-closed Fort Steilacoom golf course. The governor wants $7.5 million in the capital budget this year for pre-design of a new state hospital. Joshua Bessex joshua.bessex@gateline.com

MIXED REACTIONS

Lakewood residents who live on 81st Street Southwest near the former golf course had mixed views on building a new Western State there.

Franco Stone, who has lived in the neighborhood for 25 years but plans to move to Florida soon, said Washington needs a new state psychiatric hospital and the former golf course is an obvious location.

“Where else do you go? You don’t,” said Stone, 64.

Barbara Glaisyer, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1990, said the state should build a new Western State somewhere else.

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with it behind us anyway, because it seems like it was growing. And we did have just a couple of times where people escaped ...,” she said.

Kenon Thompson, 40, said he doesn’t see a problem with the state building a new Western State on the golf course site as long as it provides the necessary security precautions. Thompson, who grew up in another part of Lakewood, recalled seeing police officers a few times when he was about 10 years old looking for patients who had walked away from Western State.

“Our community; we’re used to it. I’ve never been of the mind of if you don’t like something, push it out of your community into somebody else’s community,” said Thompson. “Taking care of people is the most important thing.”

Ed Dehart, 63, said he’s had no problems living close to Western State for 15 years, but he wants the nine-hole golf course to reopen because it was convenient to play. The course, operated by Pierce County, was shuttered last year because expenses far exceeded revenue.

Dehart said he doesn’t trust the state to provide mental health services.

“How much money can you pour into it? It’s government spending money on something they don’t have a bloody clue about,” he said.

A leading advocate for adult family home providers said the state may want to steer clear of Lakewood as a site for the 500-bed hospital for forensic patients. He cited the City Council’s vote last year to place a moratorium on issuing new business licenses to adult family homes.

The city also sued the state, seeking to halt the discharge of patients with histories of violence or sexual offenses to adult family homes in Lakewood. A Pierce County Superior Court judge sided with the state’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, saying Lakewood lacked standing and “actual injury.” The moratorium no longer is in effect.

“If it were up to me, I would recommend not looking at the city of Lakewood,” said John Ficker, executive director of the Adult Family Home Council. “I don’ t think they would be a good partner in this kind of work.”

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