Politics & Government

Gov. Jay Inslee vetoes major parts of bill to improve Western State Hospital

Gov. Jay Inslee speaks Jan. 7, 2016 during the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview in Olympia, Washington.
Gov. Jay Inslee speaks Jan. 7, 2016 during the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview in Olympia, Washington. sbloom@theolympian.com

State officials remained at odds Tuesday over how to fix problems at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, even as Gov. Jay Inslee signed into a law a measure designed to improve operations at the state-run psychiatric facility.

Inslee, a Democrat, vetoed several sections of Senate Bill 6656, including a portion that would have allowed psychiatric nurses with advanced degrees to fill vacant psychiatrist positions at the hospital.

Inslee also vetoed a section that would have used financial incentives to try to reduce the use of state-run psychiatric facilities.

The governor said he wants an outside consultant to review the hospitals’ structure and financing before making a decision on those matters.

State Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and the sponsor of the bill, said Inslee had nixed the measure’s most important reforms.

“Patients expect and deserve better care, employees expect and deserve safer working conditions, and the general public needs to know their tax dollars go toward actual treatment and quality care,” Hill said in a statement. “We cannot continue to throw taxpayer dollars at the problem without changes to what is ultimately a system and management failure.”

The surviving portions of the bill will create a committee to recommend improvements for the hospitals, as well as hire an outside consultant to make recommendations.

The measure also calls for Western State Hospital to find somewhere else to house at least 30 geriatric or long-term-care patients, an effort to free up staffing at the hospital that has struggled to hire and keep staff. The hospital is in danger of losing federal funding after inspectors found that the hospital was unsafe.

“I think this is an important effort to utilize the facility most efficiently,” Inslee said.

In addition, the bill creates a new fund in the state treasury focused on improving the state-run psychiatric hospitals’ quality of care, patient outcomes, operations and safety. The state budget Inslee signed Monday put $6.7 million in the account, which will be known as the governor’s behavioral health innovation fund.

Inslee announced last week that a new CEO will take over Western State Hospital after two patients escaped through a key-locked window.