Matt Driscoll

CEO of new Tacoma psychiatric hospital says patient’s suicide ‘difficult to accept’

For a facility operating only 14 beds, the Wellfound Behavioral Health Hospital has plenty of employees.

There are 145, to be exact.

Late Friday, all of them got a note from acting CEO Matt Crockett.

The emailed statement, which was obtained by The News Tribune and confirmed by the hospital, addressed the recent suicide of Kevan Carter Jr., as well the steps the facility must take before it’s able to fully open.

The News Tribune reported on both subjects earlier Friday.

“(Carter Jr.’s) loss of life is tragic. It is an immensely sad outcome that is difficult to accept or put into words,” said Crockett, who joined Wellfound in June after the quick departure of original CEO Maureen Womack.

“Administratively,” Crockett continued, “we are in the process of assessing work flows and many procedures in the (crisis stabilization unit) and inpatient units. We are looking for opportunities to ensure our work is safe and comprehensive. If you have ideas that would support our assessment and improvements, feel free to reach out to me or your supervisor.”

Carter Jr. — a Wilson High School grad and locally known rap and R&B artist — stepped in front of a train near Titlow Beach in Tacoma on the morning of July 23. He had repeatedly sought help at Wellfound, according to his family, only to be turned away each time.

“My main thing is they sent him away twice, within 12 hours, twice in one day, for a man walking in and saying I need help,” Carter Jr.’s mom, Bedez, told The News Tribune last week. “I am not convinced that Wellfound is ready to handle this.”

Wellfound Behavioral Health Hospital is a partnership between Multicare and CHI Franciscan. It opened in May after reaping millions in financial contributions from the state, the county and Tacoma to be built.

Last week, the hospital acknowledged it has yet to obtain safety accreditation from the independent, nonprofit Joint Commission.

Wellfound needs the voluntary accreditation to bill Medicaid, Medicare and other health insurances.

That means that only a handful of the hospital’s 120 beds are open.

Tacoma State Senator Steve O’Ban, who also serves as senior council for behavioral health with Pierce County, is one of a number of local leaders surprised the hospital has yet to achieve the necessary safety accreditation.

“I‘m sure to some extent so was Wellfound,” said O’Ban, adding that Multicare and CHI Franciscan “must feel the pressure and need to get that up and running.”

Pierce County has a well-known lack of mental health beds, a longstanding problem Wellfound is supposed to help remedy.

That also has yet to happen.

“Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation. It’s not a good situation,” said Glenn Czerwinski, the chief operating officer at Greater Lakes Mental Health, when asked about Wellfound’s struggle to fully open its 120 psychiatric beds.

“We’re eagerly awaiting these beds to go online to create additional capacity, which they are intended to do,” Czerwinski said. “It’s really that simple.”

In his letter to employees, Crockett acknowledged the “process to open the entire facility will take a full year.”

He suggested that the hospital “will experience many stages of growth that will require us to be flexible and understanding of the need for constant change” during that time.

“Those of you in the trenches of direct patient care are often the first to know processes or procedures are not working well. Support our development by sharing with your leadership recommendations,” Crockett said.

“This will be the best and fastest path to improved changes.”

Crockett expects Wellfound’s accreditation survey to be conducted by three surveyors over three days in October, he said in the letter.

In preparation, the acting CEO identified a long list of ongoing work at the hospital, including upgrading bathroom doors, reinstalling ice and juice machines, installing a smoke barrier in the main entrance lobby and improving the hospital’s documentation system and workflow.

Crockett’s letter also indicated the $41 million facility needs to install “badge controls on certain doors in the CSU to reduce the elopement risks.”

“Until that work is complete we need to have a staff member sitting at the sliding door continuously if there is even a single patient in the (crisis stabilization unit),” Crockett told his employees.

Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.