A Pierce County court commissioner on Friday ordered the state of Washington to appoint a “special master” to oversee sweeping changes to admissions policies at the state’s troubled psychiatric hospital in Lakewood.
Commissioner Craig Adams’ 30-page ruling also calls for the state to adopt a goal of ending “psychiatric boarding” within six months and to adopt new policies for admitting long-term inpatient patients to Western State Hospital.
Officials with the Department of Social and Health Services, which runs Western State Hospital, had not seen Adams’ ruling as of Friday afternoon, agency spokeswoman Kathy Spears said.
“We will review the order with our attorneys general before responding,” Spears said.
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The opinion is the latest salvo from Adams in a long-running dispute over admissions policies at Western State Hospital. Just last month, Adams ordered the hospital’s CEO jailed if she did not admit a patient who had been wait-listed for admission. A Superior Court judge later voided the order against Cheryl Strange.
At issue are the often long waits people with mental illness must endure before being admitted to the hospital, even when a court order is in place.
Adams has rule repeatedly since 2013 that those waits violate the constitutional rights of the waiting patients, many of whom are housed without adequate treatment at general medical hospitals, jails or other facilities not certified to treat them properly.
The state has argued it has neither the staff nor the beds to accommodate all the patients ordered to treatment at Western State Hospital.
In his ruling, Adams said the state, including the Legislature, is not doing enough to address the problem. He likened the involuntary treatment process to a relay team.
“The present issues presented by these consolidated cases show a dysfunctional relay team that is not working well individually or collectively,” he wrote. “To this end, the court must facilitate the development of a seamless relay process. Only then can those most in need of long-term mental health services properly receive that which the state has a duty and obligation to provide.”
Among other things, Adams’ plan requires:
▪ The appointment within 30 days of a qualified expert to serve as special master. That person would work with the state and other involved parties to comply with the court’s order.
▪ The state “to design and implement an objectively based triage system” to better classify waiting patients and to work to make room for the most acutely ill at Western State Hospital.
▪ The creation of a plan to get patients identified for discharge from Western State Hospital out of the facility “by developing a step-down planning process.”
“Western State Hospital shall report every 60 days to the special master and to the court on the progress toward reaching the goal and what impediments, if any, exist,” Adams wrote. “The special master shall have the authority to recommend to the court any further time needed or what other actions need to be taken by the court to accomplish progress toward compliance with the stated goal.”