According to hospital staff, two psychiatrists who criticized hospital management were told to work from home this week during a period when federal inspectors were expected to visit.
Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital could lose millions of federal dollars because a staffing shortage has made it difficult to run a safe facility.
Yet, according to hospital staff, two psychiatrists who criticized hospital management were told to work from home this week during a period when federal inspectors were expected to visit.
“This was devastating for the physicians as they sat at home wondering whether they still have a career simply for speaking out,” said Dr. Joseph Wainer, a hospital psychiatrist who recently resigned as Western State Hospital’s chief of medical staff. “The effect on the medical staff is chilling, to know those who were vocal are now on home assignment.”
Officials with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) have told lawmakers staffing shortages are the reason they have not been able to comply with a federal judge’s order to provide timely competency services to mentally ill defendants. They also said an inability to hire and retain trained staff resulted in failed inspections by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
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Four times in 2015, the federal agency threatened to cut millions in funding for the 800-bed hospital after inspections found that systemwide failures caused serious harm to patients and placed their health and safety at risk.
Last week, the agency rejected the state’s plan to correct some of the violations, according to CMS spokeswoman Julie Bannester. The state agency’s revised plan is under review. Meanwhile, federal inspectors visited the hospital last week and new surveyors were expected to return this week.
Wainer said the two doctors who were told to work off-site had raised concerns about the hospital’s focus on satisfying the federal inspectors instead of trying to improve the quality of care.
Carla Reyes, assistant secretary, DSHS Behavioral Health Administration, acknowledged that the agency has initiated two hospital investigations and the employees were assigned to work that doesn’t involve direct care to patients. She said they were sent to work at the agency’s Olympia headquarters starting Thursday. But she denied Wainer’s claims that the move was retaliation for criticizing management.