Inslee makes strong case for proposed next steps to improve state psychiatric hospitals

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OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee today made a strong case for the next steps to improve safety and treatment at Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric hospital.

“We have to continue improving the hospital to bring the best care to the patients, provide safety for staff and recognize the essential role the facility plays in our state’s mental health safety net,” Inslee said.

The governor visited Western State Jan. 22, his second visit to the hospital. He met with staff, management and doctors and accompanied staff on rounds.

“What I saw was an incredibly dedicated staff struggling with the effects of years of budget cuts and staff reductions, new federal court cases, visits from regulators and more demand for services,” Inslee said. “The staff at Western care deeply about the work they do and the patients they serve. We need to help them help those in need of acute psychiatric care.”

On Jan. 28, the governor hosted a bipartisan legislative breakfast at the Governor’s Residence to discuss the hospital situation. “I believe there is wide support for action this year. We need to show that additional funds are spent well and that patients are getting the care they need,” said Inslee.

“It’s clear that while we’re making some progress, there is more to be done,” Inslee said. “Some of these things involve additional funding, some involve changes to how we manage our system – from evening out staffing, to doing a better job with documentation, to changing the culture and improving safety. We’re doing all of these things.”

Since taking office in 2013, Inslee and the Department of Social and Health Services have worked to improve operations at the hospital. Those efforts have included:

  • Hiring new leadership for the hospital and the state’s mental health system, and making vital organizational and staffing changes.
  • Instituting new training requirements for direct care staff.
  • Increasing staffing to improve treatment and enhance patient and staff safety.
  • Increasing compensation for psychiatrists, internists, psychologists and social workers to improve recruitment and retention.
  • Adding forensic beds to comply with court orders requiring the state to provide competency restoration services within a seven-day time frame.

In the current two-year state budget, the Legislature approved much of the governor’s request for additional funding for improvements at Western State Hospital and throughout the state’s mental health system. The budget included:

  • Opening new competency restoration beds and hiring additional staff to address the rising demand for inpatient, court-order competency restoration and forensic services. This will reduce wait times for people in jail awaiting competency evaluation and restoration services.
  • Creating a psychiatric intensive care unit at Western to provide specialized care for violent or assaultive patients.
  • Hiring additional staff and expanding the psychiatric emergency response team at Western’s Center for Forensic Services to improve safety for staff and patients.

Inslee stressed that much work remains. His 2016 supplemental budget calls for more funding and other long-term planning actions at Western, including:

  • Hiring 51 additional registered nurses for day and evening shifts.
  • Increasing salaries to improve recruitment and retention of psychiatrists and psychiatric staff.
  • Expanding crisis triage facilities and mobile crisis teams.
  • Increasing staffing to assist with regulatory compliance.
  • Hiring expert consultants to examine the hospital’s overall structure, assess clinical roles and develop better staffing models.
  • Collaborating with the University of Washington to create a forensic teaching unit.
  • Convening a task force focused on preventing people with mental illness from entering jails and prisons.

Media Contacts

Jaime Smith
Governor Inslee’s Communications Office