This issue requires a statewide task force comprised of the governor’s office, state agencies and lawmakers, the courts, law-enforcement agencies, community health-care providers and citizens.
A homeless woman with schizophrenia, tormented by frightening hallucinations, is caught shoplifting an apple from a grocery store. Police are called, and the woman becomes combative. Because of her behavior, she is arrested and placed in isolation at a local jail. She refuses to eat or take medications because her delusions tell her that she will be poisoned if she does. She is ordered by the court to be evaluated for competence to stand trial at one of our state’s inpatient facilities. Unfortunately, there are no beds available at the hospitals due to an ever-growing waitlist. She’ll wait in her jail cell for several weeks before transfer to a state hospital.
This example, while fictional, is commonplace in Washington, which remains in a state of emergency when it comes to addressing the mental-health needs of individuals in the legal system.
A ruling from a 2015 class-action lawsuit against the state of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services directs the state to provide certain defendants in-jail evaluations within 14 days and admission into state hospitals within seven days for inpatient evaluation or restoration treatment. The court’s decision to fine the state for its failure to comply with the ruling and inability to meet the increasing demand for services, has resulted in more than $23 million of taxpayer dollars in penalties to date, but no solution to the problem.
While enhanced funding and improvements to the system have been made by the state, the crisis persists because of a multitude of problems and barriers that can only be solved and overcome with a collaborative approach and full engagement by all sectors involved and impacted.
One of the more significant barriers is the lack of hospital beds available for evaluation or restoration services to meet the increasing demand for these services. Gov. Jay Inslee’s long-term plan to convert the Eastern and Western State Hospitals into “forensic centers of excellence” could help…