Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine are considering a slate of recommendations intended to improve conditions for the state’s psychiatric patients.
In a visit to a West Seattle community mental-health center, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Wednesday they were considering a slate of recommendations for improving the state’s troubled mental-health system.
The recommendations by the Community Alternatives to Boarding Task Force, include several strategies — such as mobile-crisis teams and more intensive case management — intended to find and treat people before they are ill enough to be ordered to Western State Hospital.
The governor’s visit comes amid continuing problems with the availability of services for those with mental illness — problems noted by the courts and in a federal review of the state’s largest psychiatric facility, Western State Hospital.
Western State has too few beds and continuing severe staff shortages that have threatened its federal funding. Despite being ordered to receive services at Western State, dozens of psychiatric patients remain in community hospitals or facilities waiting for a bed to open up.
And patients are waiting at Western State, too. They can’t be discharged because there aren’t enough beds at places like Navos Mental Health Solutions, where Inslee and Constantine took a tour.
At Navos, people with mental illness can reside in a self-sufficient manner, and learn skills such as cooking and arts in a setting where trained staff can check in and offer counseling.
But the facility turns away people in need because it is “constantly” filled to capacity, Ravenna Candy, the center’s administrator, said during the tour.
“So the solution to Western State is right here in Navos as much as it is right there in Pierce County,” Inslee said after the tour.
The governor may also call for more funding in his next budget proposal, according to Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
Some of the task-force recommendations are already being undertaken, according to Smith. In an email, Smith wrote that the governor and Constantine will work along with the task force to consider all of the ideas.
The task force also recommended officials consider alternatives to Western State for some of the court-ordered patients being sent there. It raises the idea of using local community beds in some instances where patients are being detained long-term.
The task force’s final report — sent to the Metropolitan King County Council last month — sheds light on how the troubles at Western State have driven up the number of King County psychiatric patients waiting for a bed there.
In February, 35 King County psychiatric patients were being held in hospitals who otherwise should have been in Western State, according to the report.
Before 2015, there were rarely more than 10 King County psychiatric patients in hospitals at any given time awaiting a bed at Western State.
Inslee and Constantine called for the task force in 2014, after the state Supreme Court ruled unlawful the practice known as “psychiatric boarding.” Under that practice, patients were sometimes strapped to gurneys in hospitals for days or even months while waiting for a psychiatric bed.
The Legislature later made it lawful for community hospitals able to treat psychiatric patients to do so while those patients wait for a state psychiatric bed.
But Washington state has struggled to provide enough beds for patients in need. This month, Pierce County Court Commissioner Craig Adams ordered Western State to find ways to move patients more quickly through the facility, to cut wait times.
That order came after Adams in June called it unconstitutional for the state to allow psychiatric patients who have been ordered to go to Western State to be held in a hospital or community setting for more than 30 days.