Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday approved $30 million to fund treatment for psychiatric patients being warehoused in hospital emergency rooms and other nonmental-health facilities across the state while they wait for long-term beds.
Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court issued a ban, set to go into effect Wednesday, on the often-last-resort practice known as psychiatric boarding. The state determined that about 200 people were being boarded in Washington and would be affected by the court’s ruling.
While mental-health professionals praised the court decision, many worried that for hospitals to comply, patients would be released without needed treatment.
In an effort to get more time to put the additional funds to use, the state Attorney General’s Office filed a motion Friday asking the high court to suspend its boarding ban for 120 days. The motion says that if the decision takes effect Wednesday as planned, it could pose a serious public-safety risk.
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It would also place hospital staff in an impossible position. If health-care providers continue to board patients, they would be in violation of the decision. But if they knowingly discharge dangerous or unstable patients, they would be violating the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act.
“My office wants to ensure the state is able to implement the court’s decision in a way that protects vulnerable individuals, public safety and health-care providers,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement. “No one would benefit from the release of people in mental-health crisis without treatment. We hope the court will see the broad consensus in support of this motion and grant it.”
The practice of psychiatric boarding has become increasingly common over the past five years. Last year, almost 2,500 patients were boarded in King County, according to county data — more than five times the 400 boarded in 2007.
A Seattle Times investigation found that patients are boarded for an average of three days. In extreme cases, they are strapped to gurneys during that time to prevent injury.
In the next 20 days, the state thinks it can free up 50 beds, said Jane Beyer, assistant secretary for behavioral health and service integration for the Department of Social and Health Services, which filed a declaration in support of the attorney general’s motion. Another 95 beds should be available in 120 days, she said.
It wasn’t clear specifically where the new beds will be located.
“We are working as quickly as we can to find beds and resources for impacted patients,” Inslee said in a statement. “These additional beds are an essential interim step as we work on a long-term solution.”
Andy Mannix: firstname.lastname@example.org