Politics & Government

State to fight order sending Western State CEO to jail

Cheryl Strange is the CEO of Western State Hospital in Lakewood.
Cheryl Strange is the CEO of Western State Hospital in Lakewood. The Seattle Times

State officials are expected to ask a judge to block a contempt ruling that ordered Western State Hospital’s CEO to jail, according to the office of Gov. Jay Inslee.

The state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) is preparing to ask a judge to stay Friday’s order that Western State CEO Cheryl Strange report to jail on Wednesday, according to Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith.

DSHS did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment about its efforts to keep Strange out of jail.

Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams on Friday ordered Strange to admit a man suffering from dementia into the state’s largest psychiatric hospital.

Earlier this spring, a court ordered the man to go to the hospital. But because of a shortage of bed space, the man hasn’t been admitted and has instead been kept in a general hospital.

Strange said she refused to admit the man over other people who were higher on the list waiting to get into the hospital.

Adams said that if the man isn’t admitted, Strange should report to Pierce County Jail at noon Wednesday.

The court commissioner also ordered Bea Dixon, executive director of Optum Pierce BHO, a community mental-health services provider in Pierce County, to jail on Wednesday if the patient isn’t admitted.

Smith on Monday called the situation surrounding the court order “frustrating.”

“We know what needs to get done and the hospital is working as quickly as it can,” she said.

Western State Hospital, which has more than 800 beds, has wrestled over the years with a severe staff shortage, assaults on staff members and patient escapes.

Last year, the staff shortage led the facility to close a new patient ward. That happened after a federal inspection cited Western State’s staffing problems when putting the hospital on notice that it could lose its certification and $64 million in funding.

Earlier this month, DSHS and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agreed to a 13-month plan giving the hospital time to fix its problems.

Inslee in April appointed Strange as CEO of Western State as part of a turnaround effort.