There are 73 patients waiting to get into Western State, and 181 waiting to be discharged from it. As officials prepare to fight a court order that could send the psychiatric hospital’s CEO to jail, the numbers show intense obstacles facing Washington’s mental-health system.
OLYMPIA — The man suffering from dementia and ordered by a court to be admitted into Western State Hospital is one of 73 patients waiting to get into the psychiatric facility.
Meanwhile, 181 patients in the approximately 800-bed hospital in Lakewood, Pierce County, could be discharged if there were patient beds in the community for them.
State officials are preparing to challenge a court commissioner’s order that Western State’s CEO report to jail if the man with dementia is not admitted. Meanwhile, the waiting list and discharge numbers highlight the obstacles facing Washington state’s mental-health system.
The numbers were revealed in a court hearing Friday, when Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams ordered Western State Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange to admit the man into the hospital.
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Earlier this spring, a court ordered the man to go to Western State. But because of a shortage of bed space, the man hasn’t been admitted and has instead been kept in a general hospital.
Adams said that the length of the man’s stay in that arrangement — sometimes known as “psychiatric boarding” — is a violation of his constitutional rights. While the state Supreme Court in 2014 ruled the practice unlawful, the Legislature later made it legal in certain circumstances.
Strange said she wouldn’t override the hospital’s waiting list, where other patients who are possibly sicker have priority. Along with Strange, Adams ordered Bea Dixon, executive director of Optum Pierce BHO, to jail on Wednesday if the patient isn’t admitted.
Optum Pierce BHO, a community mental-health services provider in Pierce County, plays a role in setting the patient priority lists for what Pierce County patients are sent to Western State.
In a statement Monday, Optum spokeswoman Lauren Mihajlov wrote that the state should continue to “prioritize those who have been waiting longest or who medical professionals deem need care most urgently” to get into the hospital.
“This particular patient is safe and receiving inpatient care for both his medical and behavioral needs,” Mihajlov wrote, adding later that “we look forward to working with the State and the courts to resolve this matter.”
Often patients remain at WSH because there isn’t housing for them outside the hospital.
Many of those are older and need care at a facility such as a nursing home but that can also deal with mental-health needs, according to state lawmakers.
“They don’t need to be in Western, but they need to be in a higher-level care,” said Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.
Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond and chief GOP budget writer, said that 30 community beds are scheduled to come online soon for such patients, which will free up space at Western State.
Reacting to the court order, Hill said he “certainly commiserates with the judges’ frustration.”
Three lawmakers who serve on a legislative committee that oversees Western State, however, voiced their frustrated with the court order. Jinkins, Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, and Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, all defended Strange.
“I don’t think that putting the CEO in jail is a productive way to get things to happen,” Jinkins said.
“I’m irritated,” Cody said, when asked about the order.
Becker said she agrees that holding patients in hospitals is still a problem but defended Strange. Strange “isn’t going to have a chance to help that patient unless she’s working,” Becker said.
The state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), which oversees Western State, is preparing to ask a judge to stay Adams’ court order, according to Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith.
Smith on Monday called the situation surrounding the court order “frustrating.”
“We know what needs to get done, and the hospital is working as quickly as it can,” she said.
Western State over the years has wrestled with a severe staff shortage, assaults on staff members and patient escapes.
Last year, the staff shortage led the facility to close a new patient ward. That happened after a federal inspection cited Western State’s staffing problems when putting the hospital on notice that it could lose its certification and $64 million in funding.
Earlier this month, DSHS and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services agreed to a 13-month plan giving the hospital time to fix its problems.
Inslee in April appointed Strange as CEO of Western State as part of a turnaround effort.