Politics & Government

‘Immediate jeopardy’ seen at Western State Hospital

Western State Hospital on March 8, 2013
Western State Hospital on March 8, 2013 THE NEWS TRIBUNE

A federal inspection of Western State Hospital that wrapped up Thursday found patient-care problems that rise to the level of “immediate jeopardy.”

The conclusion by inspectors working on behalf of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ratchets up the threat of losing federal funding at the state’s more than 800-bed Lakewood psychiatric hospital.

The Department of Social and Health Services that runs the hospital confirmed the finding but didn’t immediately reveal details of problems found.

“There are multiple issues throughout the hospital,” DSHS deputy assistant secretary Victoria Roberts said. “Staffing is a component of that. Part of it is that we’ve been trying to expand and do a lot of work very very rapidly.”

An assault in August by one patient on another led federal overseers to put the hospital on notice it was violating federal standards, placing it on track to lose funding Dec. 2 without improvements.

Inspectors checked for those improvements, but found serious enough problems to make the “immediate jeopardy” finding that now gives Western State 23 days from Thursday to save its funding, Roberts said.

Officials haven’t said exactly how much money is at risk but the hospital receives at least $64 million a year in federal money.

Roberts said the hospital is committed to working with federal regulators to keep patients safe. The hospital will not close, she said: “We are not anywhere close to saying that we’re going to close the hospital or parts of the hospital.”

But to address a shortage of psychiatrists, nurses and other staff that is at the root of some of the problems, DSHS has canceled a hospital expansion that was underway with money from state lawmakers. It plans to close one of two recently opened wards and shelve plans to add more.

The expansion was a response to court orders for more timely treatment of patients.

The hospital has a list of 60 people waiting for detentions — and that doesn’t count criminal defendants waiting in jail for evaluation or treatment. A federal judge has ordered the state to improve by Jan. 2 enough to provide services to defendants within a week of a court order.

Roberts said DSHS is struggling to hire and keep psychiatrists because of a national shortage and because the department doesn’t pay as well as competing agencies and practices.

Vacancies have staff members clocking frequent overtime.

DSHS is turning to the private sector for help. It has hired temporary contract psychiatrists and wants to find a contractor that can fill positions on a larger scale.

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