Washington State’s Largest Psychiatric Hospital Has Lost Federal Funding
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified Washington state late last month that the Western State Hospital – the state’s largest psychiatric hospital – is still out of compliance, and, thus, has officially lost its federal certification and $53 million in annual funds from the government. While the government will cover current patients for up to a month, it will no longer make payments for any patients admitted to the facility after July 8.
The issues causing the lost funding were related to major health and safety violations that were present for a prolonged period of time, including failure to identify and remove materials near patients that could cause them to take their own lives by strangling themselves. The agency indicated the Department of Social and Health Services has taken “significant strides toward correcting its areas of non-compliance.” However, their most recent inspection found that the hospital doesn’t meet conditions that allow it to continue receiving financial assistance.
State officials announced they would continue to work on correcting flaws within the system regardless of the lost funding and will have to take on the financial burden. “Our hospital leadership team and others in the department are focused on reviewing the report from CMS and identifying the remaining areas of concern,” said Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services.
Some of the problems that Western State has faced over the years have included assaults on health care employees and successful escape attempts by patients considered dangerous to the public. The hospital had also employed staff with little to no experience and who were not qualified for their positions. There are 800 beds in the facility and patient care was not the focus.
Governor Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said staff will be initiating a five-year plan to include moving some patients into community settings. “These findings help affirm that our plan is the right thing to do, and we are as committed as ever to implementing the reforms and systemic transformations that we know are necessary,” Inslee said. “We need to provide our patients care in community-based facilities where they can be closer to friends and family.”
His plan has, not surprisingly, been met with criticism given the hospital’s sordid history. Senator John Braun, a Republican, said Inslee’s plan “offered nothing new and dodged the difficult part of how to actually pay for and implement the corrections that are obviously needed.” Braun added, “While the loss of federal funding is incredibly problematic, today’s announcement should come as no surprise given the years of warnings and failure of the hospital’s leadership to correct a host of problems…Sadly, instead of solutions, we’ve seen continual management failures and a lack of long-term vision. While our governor has offered plenty of platitudes about the importance of mental health, his priorities seem to be elsewhere.”
Senator Steve O’Ban, a Republican, said, “You have to see this as a failure of leadership on the governor’s part. This has been a management problem.” He added of the lost funding, “This is the wake-up call of wake-up calls.”