A State Hospital Loses Accreditation

In a recent article entitled, “US: Care lacking at troubled Washington psychiatric hospital,” that appeared in many Northwest and national USA news sites and sources, the continuing troubles at Washington state’s Western State (psychiatric) Hospital were documented. Speaking as a psychiatrist that recognizes both the still present need for inpatient psychiatric beds and treatment, as well as the past history of state hospital abuses, I am again troubled by the travails of this hospital.

 

Western State Hospital in Lakeland Washington state, USA

For the reader, I wish to add a little background. This hospital is very large, over 800 beds and serves a rather large if not huge area as big as some countries. It has had all kinds of troubles over the last several years. It almost lost its federal hospital accreditation a few years ago. Loss of such endorsement in the USA means that a hospital is not able to bill for services rendered to patients through the American-federal insurance entities of Medicare (for American elderly) and Medicaid (for the American poor, those on “welfare,” the derogatory term in the USA for aid to the poor).

The news detailed that this hospital will lose up to $53M in the coming financial year which runs from July 2018 until the end of June 2019. That, in turn, means that Washington State will have to make up that money to the hospital to keep it running. And for the wondering reader not well acquainted with the American health care system, such a public hospital can NOT close. Services of psychiatric care cannot stop for obvious reasons.

The article referenced above gives a good deal of the history behind this unfortunate development which I will not go into. I wish to give the reader some semblance of explanation of why this has happened. The reader will need to have a historical viewpoint. The problems of this hospital did not start a year or two back…They have been longstanding to say the least.

Like many state hospitals in the USA, Western is located out in the countryside, quite a distance, meaning usually up to a hundred or more miles from the nearest urban area. This means that the labor pool un its area, including its home city, has a quite small metropolitan area from which to draw employees for hire. And this state hospital like most, has to employ hundreds of health workers. My own state hospital of my employ has 1,200 employees!

As a corollary in our modern society that now is overwhelmingly city based with all the ‘amenities’ thereof, is a harder sell to prospective employees. Few persons want to uproot themselves and move to a much smaller city or town and give up the modern shopping centers and such.

Currently, salaries for the professional working class are moderately lower in state psychiatric hospital settings than comparable urban areas. For nurses, physicians, physician-psychiatrists, across the economic board. Western State Hospital has long had psychiatrist shortages and nurse shortages. A few years ago the hospital had to suddenly close wards totally a hundred beds or so. No psychiatrists to see the patients…The salary issues had prompted several, ?seven or so, to move themselves and their skills to a VA (Veteran’s Administration) hospital in another part of the state because the VA hospital pay was SO MUCH HIGHER. Western State could not compete.

Another issue that has hurt Western is that the hospital structure itself is housed in a building that is many decades old, some dating back to the late 1800’s. This circumstance is actually NOT all that unusual in the USA. Most of the American state hospitals originated in the state hospital building boom after 1870 or so. [My own state hospital’s main building just a connecting walkway away from the building I work in, was built in1875. It is a gorgeous building that fortunately has been masterfully maintained].

Washington state’s governor, Jay Inslee, has labored mightily for several years to help correct the situation. He has worked with the previously reluctant legislature to increase funding which still needs far more generosity on a permanent basis. Implicit in this last sentence is a hint. Psychiatric state hospitals in the USA have long been underfunded.

Worsening this chronic pattern has been that in the last 20 years or so since the first ‘recession’ of the dot com era’s origin in 1999, states’ tax intake has shrunk. With each wave of recession in the American economy, states in the federal union that is called the United States, have had to drastically tighten their budgets. Public healthcare including state psychiatric hospitals, highway construction funding, financial initiatives in public transit, and education have taken very significant hits.

The results have been the kinds of delayed consequences that are exemplified in Western State Hospital’s evolving plight resulting in its delayed de-accreditation. This slow train wreck in public state hospitals is developing at a number of other state psychiatric hospital systems. Few states are doing what it takes to rebuild, revamp and replaces their aging, falling down facilities. The solution in the majority of states especially in the Northeastern United States has been to close many facilities. This has had the predictable result of throwing hundreds of essential inpatient psychiatric beds into thin air. And this is where the huge increase in mentally ill came from that now occupy jails and are homeless on cities’ streets.

So another basis for the de-accreditation has been that the physical plant of Western is so old and faulty that buildings are not safe and are hazards to residents and employees’ well being.

 

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USA’s Competency to Stand Trial Problem

A December 2017 article, entitled: “Colorado to spend $20 million to relieve ongoing backlog of mental competency evaluations; critics say problem was foreseeable,  in the Denver Post newspaper and recently reprised highlighted what has been a national crisis in the psychiatric inpatient care delivery system for at least the past decade.

Colorado’s problem has continued to balloon up so persistently that the article stated: “[the]State can’t keep up with monthly court orders for competency evaluation, which jumped from 146 to 215” swamping the entire state hospital bed capability. And as has happened in every other state, the regular emergent psychiatric admissions to the state’s public psychiatric hospitals were delayed, creating the all too familiar backups of patients in ERs statewide. And it must be remembered that almost all referrals for admission to state psychiatric hospitals are true emergencies.

A guard is reflected in a ...
Helen H. Davis, Denver Post file

A hallway at the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo, Denver Post file photo.

Judge Marsha Pechman of Washington state began fining Washington in the fall of 2017 $1500 daily after she found the state in contempt for not being able to deliver adequate care for the ITP patients. Her fines later escalated as she found the CEO of the Western State Hospital and the state mental health agency in contempt, to over $50M in total fines last year. By the time Judge Pechman began to levy the fines against Washington, its statewide monthly judicial orders, mirroring Colorado’s almost exactly were averaging 291 in-jail evaluation orders.
The issue is that most states in the USA continue to be flooded with mandated admissions of inmates from state judicial systems for psychiatric evaluations. These types of admissions are variously termed ITPs or incompetent to proceed to trial patients and other arcane terms derived from states’ laws designations. Washington state has struggled mightily more than most states with this issue so much that a Washington state judge has fined the state over $50M in the past two years because of the delays in care for other patients who had ended up warehoused for weeks to months at a time in general hospitals all over the state.
The Governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, who has been working at a furious pace with the Washington state legislature, recently announced new plans to try to have regional, non-state hospital-based forensic evaluation centers in different parts of the state by 2022 to handle all the ITP case needs. This is innovative in that most states do not have such a system.
In decades past, states had “forensic centers” that were designated the proper facilities to handle such cases. In the states that had such, their capacities were usually not increased from levels of the 1960’s. One such notable and nationally recognized center was and still is Michigan’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry south of Ann Arbor Michigan. Another has been the infamous Massachusetts facility Bridgewater state hospital’s forensic unit. Its heyday has long passed, and it has been the site of repeated scandals for a good decade and is not such a good example…
Nationally some of the forensic facilities were phased out as such units were incorporated into state psychiatric hospitals’ physical plants. But overall, the bed needs were not increased to keep up with population growth for over 50 years, hence the ‘sudden’ swamping of these facilities in whatever form they existed nationally.
Additionally, the impetus of the legal system has been to increasingly become scrupulous about ensuring inmates’ rights are protected to assure access to mental health evaluation and treatment. Issues of below average intelligence, organic mental conditions and medical conditions affecting legal issues such as the ability to know right from wrong, judgment, impairment of any sort at the times of commission of crimes, were more readily identified than ever in the past.
Also, it likely has become the standard of practice in the world of legal defense representation, to adequately refer to such psychiatric review whenever there is a question such an issue may exist with any defendant.
All these factors have fed into the current national crisis of explosion of need for such forensic psychiatric services at all levels and not just in infamous trials involving serial killers or cases involving the rich and famous.
All states who currently fall short of providing these mandated services will have to face the coming necessities of funding for such services along with all the other inadequacies of social, educational and human services gutted over the last 30 years. How all this will play out will in no small part shape the political and social policy debates in this country for decades.

Progress at Western State Hospital in Washington State: A Good Example for Other Beleaguered Hospital Systems?

Western State (psychiatric) Hospital has been in operational distress for more than a year now and following the travails of this facility and its staff from the line ward workers and behavioral care technicians, nurses and professional staff has been quite sad and discouraging for anyone interested in mental health reform and service delivery policy.

Continue reading “Progress at Western State Hospital in Washington State: A Good Example for Other Beleaguered Hospital Systems?”

Washingston State Hospital System Fined

IN a very recent story of less than a week ago, entitled: “Washington accrues almost $7.5 million in contempt fines,” written by Martha Bellislea of the Associated Press published in many major newspapers across the country, the sad story of the travails of Washington’s Western State Hospital continues to showcase the plight of a number state public psychiatric hospitals.

 

Continue reading “Washingston State Hospital System Fined”

Does It require a killling to get a state hospital admission still…?

In yet another unbelievable horrible tragedy, a chronically mentally ill man in Washington state was finally admitted after a few months of court orders by a judge, a fine of the state mental health department to the tune of $2,000per  day and ceaseless and desperate advocacy for inpatient psychiatric treatment for their relative.

I must confess that in the above first paragraph, I did a little dishonest thing, an intentional literary device. I implied that it only after all those pushing and shoving well placed and well-intentioned efforts, did this man get the help he needed. No, those efforts were the unsuccessful prelude…

This middle aged man murdered his elderly father and THEN he was admitted to the state hospital. The article, “David Altman finally gets a bed at Western State Hospital,” makes for a very sad read. As I read it for the first time, the old colloquial phrase, “a train wreck in slow motion,” came to mind.

This tragedy is even worse in a way than the Gus Deeds tragedy in Virginia over two years ago. In that ‘case,’ Gus Deeds was a mentally ill psychotic young man in his early 20’s. His mental illness was known to the family and well managed as the father, a Virginia state legislator, is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist. He also saw the warning signs of spiraling psychosis and immediate need for acute inpatient psychiatric admission. Under the then peculiar obstacles in Va’s state hospital admissions procedures a bed could not be found for Gus and he was released from an emergency after four days. Within 1 or 2 days as I recall, he had tried to stab his father to death and then ended up suiciding.

Clinicians around the country  years ago began warning of these kinds of tragedies in the 1990’s. I remember joining the shrill and desperate warnings in those days at various levels of my own participation in state and then in my younger days, the national organizations as we advocated for our patients. I recall realizing along with many others that our estimates and assumptions about the weight of our influence in the ‘halls of power,’ were vastly self-deluding. ‘We’ were not only not listened to, but I recall as those in power and frankly zealots in the new wave of the then growing world of mental health restructuring, viewed us as psychiatric Luddites, old fogies who were no longer ‘with the program’ so to speak. Mental health professionals were viewed as stumping to preserve their own positions of power or whatever and our warnings were not only resented but also labeled as being rather like Chicken Little shrieking “the sky is falling!” As we continued our dissent and disturbingly factual predictions of what kinds of tragedies that reductions in training programs, inpatient, and outpatient resources would produce, we began to be denigrated, ignored and accused of holding up progress. Well, truly not to gloat utilizing families’ incredibly sad tragedies to do so, I must state the obvious, “We are not Kansas anymore,” and the predictions a generation of mental health professionals repeated over and over that fell on deaf ears, have to come to occur and confirm not how smart us mental health nags and gadflies were, but that those actions were to have dire and tragic consequences and for the last decade or more we have seen them materialize in front of us.

But on an optimistic note, we have turned the corner I firmly believe. The growing number of bills in legislatures at the national and state levels are now openly addressing and discussing the issue of the failures of mental health reform. Pieces of legislation are looking at many of the correct entre’ points for cultivating solutions: increasing training funds for all types of mental health professionals, financial incentives to go into the traditionally underpaid careers with loan forgiveness programs and other responsible incentives, starting up new training programs, restoring services, and spending monies by states and the nation even (gasp) talking of ‘enhancing revenue streams,’ (read new modes, methods of taxes, horror of horrors) to make any and all of these corrective measures possible.

Corrective legislation will have to be written to facilitate the immediate and easier mobilization of emergency psychiatric admission and legal mandated involuntary psychiatric hospitalizations to help to stem these kinds of horrific tragedies and save lives. And the balance of the rights of the person so involved will have to be redrawn in a different conceptual framework so that it is not virtually impossible to hospitalize someone who is psychotic and dangerous as it still is in some venues.