Matt Driscoll

More fallout at Tacoma’s new psychiatric hospital as admissions to crisis unit curtailed

Tacoma’s new psychiatric hospital will put a “temporary hold” on admissions to its six-bed crisis stabilization unit while hospital officials “evaluate processes and procedures and to ensure the highest standard of care is being offered to the community,” according to a memorandum obtained by The News Tribune.

On Wednesday, MultiCare President and CEO Bill Robertson sent the memo to employees announcing the changes at Wellfound Behavioral Health Hospital, which opened its doors in May.

The decision to enact the “temporary hold,” Robertson wrote, came after “Wellfound assessed their work and identified some opportunities to improve the care provided.”

A MultiCare spokeswoman confirmed Robertson’s letter, saying it was sent to all MultiCare employees in the Puget Sound region. MultiCare and CHI Franciscan partnered to run Wellfound under the Alliance for South Sound Health.

No timeline for how long the hold will last was provided in Robertson’s letter. A hospital spokesperson could not immediately provide further details.

When alliance representatives sought construction money for the hospital in 2016, one of the selling points was the crisis stabilization unit beds the hospital would provide to a community in desperate need of them.

Eventually, the coalition of boosters — including local, state and federal lawmakers — got their money. Together, Tacoma, Pierce County and the state contributed nearly $10 million towards the construction of the new $41 million, 120-bed Wellfound.

Over the last week, Wellfound has faced scrutiny for the suicide of 29-year-old Kevan Carter Jr. As The News Tribune reported, Carter Jr. repeatedly sought help for depression at Wellfound, only to be turned away on three occasions, according to his family.

Hours after Carter Jr. was sent away from Wellfound for the last time, early on the morning of July 23, he stepped in front of a train near Titlow Beach in Tacoma.

News of Carter Jr.’s suicide came at the same time that Wellfound acknowledged that only 14 of its 120 beds were being utilized, something the Carter family says it was unaware of when they sought help for their son there.

With news of the “temporary hold” on admissions to Wellfound’s crisis stabilization unit, the number of available beds shrinks to just six — at least for the time being.

Part of the problem is that Wellfound has yet to obtain accreditation through an independent, nonprofit organization known as the Joint Commission.

Among other things, Joint Commission accreditation is needed for Wellfound to bill many insurance providers, including Medicaid and Medicare.

According to a Joint Commission spokeswoman, accreditation involves assessing “policies, procedures and practice that organizations should have in place to sustain high quality of care and patient safety.”

On Thursday, Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier addressed Carter Jr.’s suicide and the impact it’s had on Wellfound as it works to to address concerns at the hospital.

“I think it says that what happened to Kevan Carter impacted them significantly,” Dammeier said.“I think it shows you that right now their leadership did not have confidence that the team at that crisis stabilization unit was prepared to do that.”

“I think they decided that the best thing for our community is for (Wellfound) to stop providing that service,” Dammeier added. “I’m sure at this point they’re doing a deep dive, because they know they’ve got to do a better job for the people of Pierce County and the next Kevan Carter.”

In a statement emailed to The News Tribune last week, Wellfound described its opening earlier this year as an “introductory process.”

In a letter to employees sent late last week, Wellfound acting CEO Matt Crockett acknowledged the “process to open the entire facility will take a full year.”

The acting CEO also identified a list of ongoing work at the hospital, including upgrading bathroom doors, installing “badge control” on crisis stabilization unit doors, reinstalling ice and juice machines, installing a smoke barrier in the main entrance lobby and improving the hospital’s documentation system and workflow.

In Robertson’s letter to employees, the MultiCare president and CEO said Wellfound will “being to open more beds later this year in conjunction with the accreditation process.”

Robertson described Wellfound as “currently in the Joint Commission accreditation process.”

Crockett has described Carter Jr.’s suicide as “an immensely sad outcome that is difficult to accept or put into words.”

Dammeier said the “temporary hold” on crisis stabilization unit admissions at Wellfound is evidence of how serious the situation is, and that the hospital is actively working to improve.

“I think they are being accountable. Nobody wanted to be here. Certainly, not our community, not me and not the leaders and board leaders from (CHI Franciscan and MultiCare),” Dammeier said.

“They know that our community needs them to deliver top quality service for our folks who are in crisis, and I have full confidence they will deliver.”

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