This is the latest in a series of crises facing the state's social-services system. This decertification of the Pierce County facility for developmentally-disabled people could cost Washington roughly $12 million in annual funding, according to state officials.

Share story

OLYMPIA — The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has decertified part of the Rainier School, a state-run facility for people with developmental disabilities, citing the institution’s failure to meet basic safety and health requirements.

The move could cost Washington state roughly $12 million in annual federal funding, according to the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which oversees the facility.

The decertification came after inspections last year showed issues with staffing levels and oversight in one program at Rainier as well as with what’s known as active treatment. That is intended to help residents become more independent.

The entire facility houses about 240 people, according to DSHS spokeswoman Lisa Copeland. About 80 of those residents are in the program that was decertified, said Copeland.

DSHS is working to transfer those residents to different facilities by the fall, according to a news release by the agency. Roughly 20 other patients from that program have already been relocated to other facilities as the agency anticipated an unfavorable decision, according to Copeland.

The decertification is the latest in a series of crises facing the state’s social-services system.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in a similar move last year decertified Western State Hospital, Washington’s largest psychiatric facility, costing $53 million in annual funding.

And a report last fall detailed how a lack of care providers led Washington’s foster-care system to send children to Iowa, where they were allegedly abused in a facility run, according to the advocacy group Disability Rights Washington, “like a correctional institution.”

Rainier School, located in Buckley, Pierce County, has struggled for more than a year to come into compliance after a series of inspections by federal regulators.

Copeland said it has been difficult recruiting staff to work in Buckley, when they could earn the same amount of pay somewhere else.

“We’re definitely saddened by it, but I don’t think that we’re surprised,” she said of the decertification.

The remainder of the Rainier School residents are in two other programs, one of which has maintained its certification, according to Copeland.

DSHS officials are waiting to learn the findings about a recent inspection on the third program, according to Copeland.

Other federal investigations in 2017 found the facility “possibly contributed” to the deaths of two patients through poor medical care for one patient’s pressure sore and the lack of monitoring of another’s diet.

A Disability Rights Washington report last year on the Rainier School claimed that other residents at the facility remained at risk of choking to death while eating.

In the notice of termination released this week, federal regulators cited Rainier School’s “failure to meet Medicaid’s basic health and safety requirements.”

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Gov. Jay Inslee, said the decision was disappointing and would have a short-term fiscal impact. But the decertification won’t affect the transition plan currently underway, Smith said.

Inslee’s proposed 2019-21 state operating budget would provide for boosted staffing at Washington’s residential facilities and would fund additional community beds for those with developmental disabilities.