Washington state health officials briefly stopped the state’s largest private psychiatric hospital from admitting any new patients under the age of 18 until a violation for endangering patient safety was resolved, marking their first use of such an enforcement action.

The Washington state Department of Health issued the order on Saturday to temporarily stop placing young patients at BHC Fairfax Hospital in Kirkland, and said Thursday it would lift the restriction after verifying the facility had taken steps to address the violation.

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The disciplinary action 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.

Officials investigated complaints at Fairfax on April 21 and cited the hospital for conditions that presented “immediate jeopardy” to patient safety, the most serious type of violation.

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A DOH spokesperson Thursday declined to provide the details of the violations, which the department described in a release as failures to have a safe environment for patients, identify those at risk of harm, and put in place a plan for preventing sexual assault.

Fairfax had 24 hours to implement a plan to fix those issues, but a follow-up inspection Saturday led department officials to issue a “limited stop placement” order effective immediately. The hospital couldn’t accept young patients until DOH verified that the hospital had resolved or taken action to address the problem Thursday.

Christopher West, chief executive of Fairfax Behavioral Health, said earlier Thursday that the hospital was addressing the issues identified by DOH.

“We are committed to ensuring compliance with all regulations and are confident that adolescent admissions will soon resume,” he wrote in an email. “Our staff continues to provide compassionate care and treatment for the 10 adolescent patients currently admitted.” 

Fairfax is the largest private psychiatric hospital in the state and has 157 beds. The Kirkland hospital 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, one of the nation’s largest providers of mental health care that operates several psychiatric hospitals in Washington state.

The Department of Health said this is an ongoing investigation and didn’t release more details.

The last time DOH cited Fairfax for a violation, according to the department’s website, was in July when an investigator found that hospital staff hadn’t followed a procedure for documenting precautions to prevent patients from being sexually victimized.