Letters to the Editor

Mental health: Ease strain on Western State

Re: “At Western State, risks to patients as well as staff” (TNT, 12-16).

Recent violence at Western State Hospital is cause for alarm, and the state must take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of staff and patients. But the action shouldn’t end there.

Washington should re-evaluate how it is using the two state psychiatric hospitals, including consideration of whether some patients would be better served in community settings.

In recent years, state lawmakers have made it easier to commit people to the psychiatric hospitals and harder for some to get out, even if they could be safely treated elsewhere. This is in spite of the fact that a recent Washington State Institute for Public Policy report found that three community-based programs — assertive community treatment, mobile crisis response and supported housing — successfully reduce psychiatric hospitalizations and are often less expensive.

More state funding for community-based services and fiscal incentives for counties to keep people close to home for treatment would ease the strain on our psychiatric hospitals.

The problems at Western State Hospital are evidence that Washington should use community-based programs whenever possible and reserve psychiatric hospitals for those who truly need them. Community-based programs, which focus on prevention and recovery, are the long-term solution.

(Cooke is a policy director for the ACLU of Washington’s Campaign for Smart Justice.)