Washington state, under federal orders to quickly provide mentally ill defendants with competency evaluations and treatment, has asked a U.S. District Court to give it more time to first work on problems at Western State Hospital.
OLYMPIA — Washington state says it needs more time to comply with a federal judge’s order requiring officials to quickly provide mentally ill defendants with competency evaluations and treatment.
In April, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said the state was violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill defendants and gave officials until Jan. 2, 2016, to start providing competency evaluations and restoration treatment within seven days of a judge’s order.
But the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) said Thursday it had asked the U.S. District Court in Seattle to extend the compliance deadline to May 27. Authorities say one of the reasons the extra time is needed is that the state has to address problems at Western State Hospital, its major mental-health facility.
Four times in 2015, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid threatened to cut millions in funding for Western State after inspections found that systemwide failures had caused serious harm to patients and placed their health and safety at risk.
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The state says it is working to open additional facilities to provide more space for mentally ill defendants. DSHS wants to open a 30-bed facility in the Rochester, Thurston County, area in April and another 24-bed facility in Yakima in March for restoration services.
“We face a severe staffing shortage and must stop adding new beds at Western State Hospital until it can stabilize staffing to help ensure that patients and staff are safe when dealing with volatile situations that are common in forensic mental health treatment facilities,” Victoria Roberts, deputy assistant secretary of the DSHS Behavioral Health Administration, said in a statement.
An investigation by The Associated Press found that assaults on staff by patients at Western State have resulted in millions of dollars in medical costs and thousands of missed days of work. Injured employees missed 41,301 days of work between 2010 and 2014, and workers’ compensation insurance paid $6 million in wage and medical costs for claims to injured hospital workers between January 2013 and September 2015, the AP found.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s new budget proposal includes more than $137 million for the state’s beleaguered mental-health system.
The plan would add 62 new positions, including 51 registered nurses for day and evening shifts at Western State, at a cost of $6.8 million.
Inslee also would improve staff recruitment and retention rates by using $9.5 million to offer salary raises and bonuses for psychiatrists and other psychiatric staff, according to the plan.