Spending deal would reopen beds at state psychiatric hospital

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OLYMPIA — Multiple court rulings against the state have lawmakers hurrying to free up space for psychiatric patients waiting for treatment in emergency rooms and jails.

A deal between Democrats and Republicans in the state House to patch state funding gaps through June offers $21 million for mental health treatment. The bill is being fast-tracked to the House floor for a possible vote this week.

The money would pay for about 145 extra beds that Gov. Jay Inslee ordered opened last year after the state Supreme Court ruled that officials must stop detaining patients in emergency rooms while they wait for treatment.

Inslee’s order added more space at facilities around the Puget Sound area for short-term detentions. But those facilities feed their patients into Western State Hospital for longer stays, and the Lakewood hospital has a waiting list after years of cuts.

So the House plan would fund Inslee’s request to reopen a 30-bed ward at Western State.

In another court case, a federal judge found Washington is violating the rights of criminal defendants by making them wait weeks or even months in jail, first for psychiatric evaluations and then for treatment if found incompetent to stand trial.

Jailed defendants in Western Washington are now waiting about 19 days on average for evaluators to examine them and, for those found incompetent, 70 to 90 more days to be transported to Western State for treatment, legislative staff reported Monday. State law sets targets of seven days for each process.

The House plan would fund an extra 15-bed ward at Western State to free up space for treatment, plus three more state evaluators and more money for counties to contract with outside evaluators.

Separate from the court cases, the House plan covers a budget shortfall at the two state hospitals and bulks up safety measures there. The proposal would add space to isolate violent patients and expand teams that respond to incidents.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the package is a short-term response to the courts. Lawmakers are months away from a deal on a two-year operating budget, a capital budget that could build new space for patients, and perhaps legislation to help family members get their loved ones detained for treatment.

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” Sullivan said.