Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Washington running out of time to meet judge's deadline on mental health evaluations

Posted By on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 at 10:10 AM

Washington state health officials better pick up the pace if they're going to meet the January deadline for reducing wait times for court-ordered mental health competency evaluations and restoration.  

So says the monitor appointed by U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman back in April. Pechman issued a permanent injunction to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, ordering them to reduce wait times to seven days for competency evaluation and restoration of mentally ill defendants. Pechman ruled that the amount of time those defendants are waiting in jails is unconstitutional. DSHS later appealed part of that ruling.

DSHS has until January to comply with the seven-day waitlist time limit. Currently, the average wait time for evaluation at Eastern State Hospital is 60 days or longer and 12 to 15 days at Western State Hospital, according to information provided to the court from the respective facilities. According to the most recent waiting list, the longest wait time for a bed at Eastern State Hospital is 120 days, the longest wait for an evaluation is 144 days.

In her first quarterly report, Danna Mauch, an expert in public health systems appointed to monitor the department's progress, found that the state is in danger of missing the 2016 deadline despite steps they've already taken.

So far, DSHS has passed a Biennial Budget totaling $40.9 million that allows for 90 more beds and 13 more forensic evaluators between both facilities. Western will get eight more evaluators and 45 more beds; Eastern will get five more evaluators and 15 more beds, according to the budget.

In July, the state made offers to 12 evaluators, and eight accepted positions at Western State Hospital, but no one wanted to work on the east side of the state. After speaking with department officials about the possibility of emergency hiring, they said the plan was for evaluators from Western State to fill in the gaps until they can hire new people. 

Western State Hospital added 10 new beds in June 2015 and plans to add five more in September. Eastern State Hospital will add 15 beds by November.

However, the court orders for competency services continue to pile up and give Mauch cause for concern that DSHS won't meet the deadline. An incomplete figure from April 2015 indicates there were 336 competency cases, 918 in May and 1,486 in June. She is also concerned the steps taken so far do nothing to improve the situation for those currently waiting. 

"The critical conditions in the jails suggest that interim urgent measures to clear backlogs are in order," she writes.  

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Mitch Ryals

Mitch covers cops, crime and courts for the Inlander. He moved to Spokane in 2015 from his hometown of St. Louis, and is a graduate of the University of Missouri. He likes bikes, beer and baseball. And coffee. He dislikes lemon candy, close-mindedness and liars. And temperatures below 40 degrees.