Western State Hospital, which this week lost its federal certification, has struggled to correct recurring problems over the years, according to inspection reports released Tuesday by the Washington state Department of Social and Health Services.
OLYMPIA — Since 2015, federal regulators had cited Western State Hospital multiple times for violations that included problems with its fire-suppression systems and its use of patient restraints.
But Western State — which on Monday lost its federal certification and $53 million in annual funding — hadn’t resolved those issues, according to inspection reports released Tuesday by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
Officials have said the state will cover the lost federal money, and the decertification isn’t expected to affect operations at the hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric facility.
With about 850 beds, Western State holds patients who have been involuntarily committed due to psychiatric disorders, as well as criminal defendants whose competency is in doubt.
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The inspection by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services came in May, shortly after Gov.Jay Inslee and a handful of lawmakers announced a new push to significantly reshape the hospital and the state’s broader mental-health system in the coming years.
In a review of hospital records during the visit, inspectors found a patient who on two occasions had been held in restraints for more than three-and-a-half hours, despite not showing agitated behavior for much of that time.
Regulators had previously cited the hospital for inappropriate use of restraints in November 2015, March 2016 and May 2017, the inspection report said.
In an email, DSHS spokeswoman Kelly Stowe said the agency hasn’t yet been able to review what happened with that patient.
But, “I can tell you that there has been improvement here,” Stowe wrote. “Fewer patients are being restrained.”
A separate fire-safety inspection conducted in mid-May found sprinklers throughout the hospital askew or hanging down from the ceiling, with at least one disconnected from the fire-suppression system. Another sprinkler had a bucket placed beneath it.
A review of hospital records showed that fire drills hadn’t been conducted frequently enough, or properly. Among other issues, a broken fire-alarm panel couldn’t be repaired, a hospital staffer told inspectors, “because it was old and the parts were no longer in service.”
Inspectors had previously found fault with the hospital’s fire-suppression systems and fire-drill practices in May 2015 and June 2017, according to the latest inspection.
Lawmakers had budgeted money to improve Western State’s fire-suppression systems in the 2017 capital-construction budget — but that bill was delayed by seven months over a political squabble in Olympia.
Legislators didn’t approve it until January of this year.
“We had a plan in place to fix the fire-suppression system (sprinklers, alarms) but due to the delay of a capital budget, those projects did not begin in time to finish before the survey,” Stowe wrote in an email.
Among other violations, the inspection documented the hospital’s failure to make sure treatment plans for patients were developed and used, and to make sure patients were going to physical therapy if they needed it. The report doesn’t mention previous citations for those issues.
Inslee and others have said they believe the hospital’s campus is too old to update to current standards, and that psychiatric patients would be better served in new, smaller facilities built around the state.
There’s no cost estimate yet for that transition, but the governor plans to push in the upcoming legislative session for funding to make that happen over the next five years, Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said.