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Jail trip for state hospital CEO canceled until further notice

Western State Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange can cross a trip to jail off her calendar.

A ruling issued late Wednesday by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Susan Serko vacates a contempt-of-court ruling issued last week that ordered Strange to jail.

The contempt order also covered Bea Dixon, director of Optum Pierce, the private entity that provides mental health services to county residents under a state contract.

The ruling also stays any further contempt-of-court proceedings until the clashing sides can reach some sort of consensus, though no date is given.

State and hospital leaders, Optum officials and the court must “hold a meeting for the purpose of developing a unified plan to meet the challenges presented by the current increased need for public mental health services in Pierce County,” Serko’s order states.

State and hospital leaders, Optum officials and the court must “hold a meeting for the purpose of developing a unified plan to meet the challenges presented by the current increased need for public mental health services in Pierce County,” the order states.

The initial order, issued June 10 by Court Commissioner Craig Adams, found Strange and Dixon in contempt of court because of the state mental hospital’s refusal to admit a patient who has been detained in an area hospital since April.

The practice, known as “psychiatric boarding,” is the crux of a long-running legal controversy that continues to plague the state’s troubled mental health system.

Strange and the state Department of Social and Health Services, which oversees the hospital, said the refusal to admit the patient was a matter of resources, not defiance. The hospital has a wait-list of scores of patients needing admission and not enough beds to meet the demand.

Attorneys for Optum moved Wednesday to vacate the contempt order, which had been stayed until June 21. The immediate effect: Strange and Dixon won’t have to fight in court against the ordered jail stint.

Longer-term effects are less clear, but another hearing involving a group of patients waiting for admission to the hospital is set for June 27.

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