Governor’s aversion to reform at Western State Hospital puts more people at risk

Following 2015’s increased investments in state psychiatric hospitals, problems became even worse. In response, Sen. Andy Hill sponsored a comprehensive set of policy reforms coinciding with this year’s additional investments for the troubled hospital. Gov. Inslee today signed the legislation into law, but vetoed four key sections including major policy and financial reforms.

“In 2015 we increased funding and the problem got even worse. This year we added more money along with policy changes to make sure funding made a difference, and the governor decimated our bipartisan reforms,” said Hill, of Redmond, who serves as chief budget writer in the Senate. “Federal funds are at risk, care providers face serious danger and violent predators have walked out; the governor’s veto tells Washington residents the status quo is acceptable and puts more people at risk.”

Hill’s legislation made a series of reforms including changes to the state hospital financing model, an innovation fund to pay for research-based improvements and additional legislative oversight. The bill also calls for the use of advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) for unfilled staffing positions, moves 30 seniors and other long-term patients into more appropriate care settings and requires new safety and staffing plans.

“Patients expect and deserve better care, employees expect and deserve safer working conditions and the general public needs to know their tax dollars go toward actual treatment and quality care,” said Hill.  “We cannot continue to throw taxpayer dollars at the problem without changes to what is ultimately a system and management failure.”

The governor vetoed sections aimed at improving staff retention and recruitment, providing safety training, reducing the ward size to improve care and staff safety, using ARNP’s to fill existing staffing needs and instituting a new financing mechanism.

“Despite repeated claims that problems at state psychiatric hospitals stem entirely from budget reductions this is not the case and money alone will not solve the problem,” said Hill.

Since 2000 state funding for Western State  Hospital has increased by 148 percent, well above the 35 percent inflation rate for the same period. Eastern State Hospital has seen 179 percent growth, while the overall state budget has grown by 82 percent. In addition to increased funding Western State Hospital is actually serving fewer patients including 2,827 in 2014, down from 3,978 in 2001.

The legislation was approved by broad bipartisan margins during the 2016 legislative session including a 32-11 vote by the Senate and 78-16 in the House.