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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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Lawmakers approved a plan to fix the mental health system


OLYMPIA — Washington legislators took substantial steps to reshape the mental-health system, including funding for new facilities, legislation to increase the number of qualified workers, and the creation of new types of treatment centers.

The Seattle Times reports that lawmakers approved the plan — which sprawls across two different state budgets, as well as several other bills — in the legislative session that ended April 28.

The work comes after years of court orders and federal inspections that meticulously documented the poor treatment of psychiatric patients in the state’s care, as well as a steep shortage of treatment beds and staffers to operate them.

“We’ve never had a plan before,” said Rep. Joe Schmick, R-Colfax, part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who worked on the issue. “Always before, it’s just ‘we’re going to throw money at something and we’re going to put out fires.'”

It remains to be seen how the complex plan comes together in the coming years. Grants will have to be awarded, facilities sited, permitted and built, and staff must be found to run them.

Local Angle

Included in the recently passed capital budget is $1.7 million for the Tenny Creek assisted-living facility.

Funding for the facility, which will be operated by the Vancouver Housing Authority, was a priority for both Clark County and its legislative delegation. Previously, Vancouver Housing Authority Executive Director Roy Johnson said that the $13 million required to fund the facility will be stitched together with tax credits, federal funds and other sources. It’s anticipated to provide housing for about 40 tenants who have connections to Clark County and will include a kitchen, exam room and space for supportive services.

But, “I think we made really big steps toward moving us toward a true community-based mental-health system,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, who worked on capital-budget negotiations.

The 2019-21 capital-construction budget spends roughly $33 million for pre-design and design of a new behavioral health teaching hospital at the University of Washington. The facility would train mental-health professionals while also providing as many as 150 treatment beds.

That budget includes about $118 million toward building new facilities, or expanding existing ones, across the state.

Among other places, it funds projects in Bremerton, Centralia, Colville, Edmonds, Spokane, Issaquah, Sedro-Woolley, and for the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe.

That money also provides for psychiatric beds at new or expanded community hospitals in Everett, Auburn and Yakima.

Lawmakers included some competitive grant money for projects still to be determined and funds to build a 16-bed state-run facility and a 48-bed facility that would be partly state-run.

Also, there is $24 million in the state Housing Trust Fund for residential placements and case management for people struggling with chronic mental-health issues.