The Mental Health Project is a Seattle Times initiative focused on covering mental and behavioral health issues. It is funded by Ballmer Group, a national organization focused on economic mobility for children and families. The Seattle Times maintains editorial control over work produced by this team.

Fairfax Behavioral Health in Kirkland, the state’s largest private psychiatric hospital, has officially closed its inpatient adolescent unit, about three weeks after state health officials issued a temporary stop order to the hospital for endangering patient safety. 

In a statement to The Seattle Times this week, hospital CEO Christopher West said, “Based upon current patient demand and demographics, we suspended the inpatient adolescent program, effective May 16, 2022. This will allow us to dedicate more beds to serve our adult population, an area of continued need in our community.” 

Fairfax did not respond to requests for more details, though it did clarify this will not affect adult services or adolescent outpatient services. As of late April, Fairfax had 10 adolescents in its unit, which served patients under 18 years old. It’s unclear where those youth will go.

Washington’s mental health care system for children is already facing overwhelming demand. “We don’t have beds,” said Penny Quist, a mother of six in Grant County whose child spent time at the Fairfax adolescent unit in 2018. “So closing anything is bad.”

Washington currently funds 94 long-term inpatient beds to serve the state’s 1.1 million children. Beds at Fairfax were shorter-term and filled a much needed gap for families waiting for more intensive services.  

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Fairfax has a total of 157 beds and offers treatment for adults and kids, including those who check in voluntarily and those who are detained by court order. It is owned by Universal Health Services, which operates several psychiatric hospitals in Washington state and is one of the nation’s largest providers of mental health care.

The state Department of Health issued a disciplinary action on April 28, stopping Fairfax from admitting new patients under age 18 until a safety violation was resolved. Officials declined to provide details about the safety violation, but cited the hospital for conditions that presented “immediate jeopardy” to patient safety — the most serious type of violation.

The disciplinary action from the state drew on a 2020 law that granted DOH new enforcement powers over private psychiatric hospitals. The department sought expanded authority from lawmakers after a Seattle Times investigation revealed extensive harm to patients and staff at such hospitals, which hadn’t been subject to any enforcement action since 2006.

Mental health resources from The Seattle Times