Inside Opinion

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Tag: Mental Health


The high price of saving money on mental health

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

The fate of people with severe psychiatric disorders in this state has traditionally been driven by two factors:

Washington hates to spend money treating the mentally ill.

Washington also hates to commit them to involuntary treatment unless they’re on the verge of killing themselves or others.

The two are closely connected. Those who don’t want to spend much on the sick may find it especially easy to give them the “freedom” to live on the streets.

As The News Tribune’s Sean Robinson and Jordan Schrader reported Sunday, this state’s economy-minded approach to mental illness carries an appalling human cost.

Washington ranks at or close to the bottom of all states in hospital capacity for the mentally ill. There aren’t near enough beds for patients who need intensive care in a secure setting.

The scarcity backfires in nasty ways.

Some people with severe but untreated illnesses act out in fear, anger or delusion and wind up in jail. They may commit crimes they wouldn’t have committed had they gotten enough care.

A jail is a miserable – and extremely expensive – substitute for a psychiatric hospital.

Other sick people wind up languishing in emergency rooms awaiting an opening at Western State Hospital or other appropriate setting.

On one day two weeks ago, for example, 11 patients with mental illnesses were rolled into Pierce County’s involuntary commitment court on gurneys. They’d been more or less warehoused in conventional hospitals­ – receiving minimal mental health treatment – under a system misleadingly named psychiatric boarding.
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Agenda for action in 2013

This commentary will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Again this year, The News Tribune’s editorial board has identified what we believe should be fundamental priorities for Washington state, this region and our communities.

The agenda below reflects the values and concerns that will guide our commentary through 2013.

At the top is education. With Washington’s economy recovering from five years of distress, this state should finally be able to invest more in its public schools and colleges. The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision is more than enough reason to expand the opportunities we owe our children and grandchildren.

Our 2013 civic agenda:


Public education needs a radical rethinking this year.

For decades, the Legislature has been evading its responsibility to fully fund the state’s schools, expanding other programs while forcing school districts to rely on local levies to pay for such basics as textbooks, school nurses and bus drivers.

That’s got to stop, said the Washington Supreme Court last January in its landmark McCleary decision. The court demanded that the Legislature comply with the Washington Constitution, which states that “ample provision” for basic education is the “paramount duty of the state.”

Nor does basic education consist of harried teachers in overcrowded classrooms. As common sense and the court defines it, “ample” means far more the bare bones. Every child, even in poor school districts, must be offered the high-end academic skills needed to succeed in a complex, technology-intense world.

This means the Legislature must appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars more per year to the K-12 system. That’s going to require some very tough choices in Olympia, probably including more taxation.


The Supreme Court has no authority to raise taxes or micromanage legislative budgets. Budget-writers are accountable to the voters, which means that the public holds the ultimate power to demand or deny adequate funding for schools.

The public understands that simply dumping more money in an underperforming school system will produce only a more expensive underperforming school system. But Washingtonians can be persuaded to invest more in the system if they see greater accountability in their schools, high academic standards, and science-based teaching and administrative practices.

Voters will pay for results. They won’t pay for the status quo.


College opportunity doesn’t fall under the constitutional definition of basic education, but few students will find success in tomorrow’s economy without vocational or academic training beyond high school.
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Mental health court could cut jail costs

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

In the aftermath of the Dec. 14 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., most of the focus has been on guns – and how easy it is for disturbed individuals to obtain them. But that tragedy – as well as earlier mass killings – have also shone a light on weaknesses in mental health treatment in the United States.

In the South Sound, high-profile tragedies in the past few months have revealed the difficulties in getting help for troubled family members: the murder of Rob Meline of Tacoma, allegedly by his mentally ill son, as well as the shooting incident in a store near Wauna. A woman whose family had tried to get mental health treatment for her has been charged with killing David Long and injuring two other men.

Too often, mental illness in this country is something that is “treated” behind bars rather than in therapeutic settings. A 2006 Department of Justice study found that 64 percent of jail inmates and 56 percent of state prison inmates have mental health issues. Mentally ill inmates cost U.S. taxpayers an estimated $9 billion a year.
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Another mental health breakdown, another family tragedy

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Doctors released Jonathan Meline from Western State Hospital in January, deeming him “no longer an imminent threat to himself or the community.”

But now we know that he was a threat to his father, a respected teacher in the Bethel School District. On Thursday, prosecutors say, the 29-year-old brutally killed Robert Meline in his Tacoma home. The son told investigators he had been planning the murder for months.

It’s easy to second-guess the decision to release Meline now that he’s shown himself to indeed be a threat – if not exactly an “imminent” one. But Meline does appear to have shown plenty of warning signs before he was criminally committed to WSH from October 2010 to May 2011 and civilly committed from August 2011 to Jan. 12 of this year.
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For-profit treatment facilities need state oversight

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

An unfortunate situation unfolding in the Seattle suburb of Normandy Park offers a cautionary tale to other cities. What’s happening there could very easily happen elsewhere.

According to reporting by the Seattle Times, a for-profit company in Normandy Park that claims to provide mental health treatment is one of a growing number of such organizations that have found a sweet spot that allows them to avoid state regulatory oversight.

Earlier this year, California-based Hanbleceya opened a clinic in Normandy Park and either purchased or rented five nearby homes as housing for its clients – people suffering from an array of serious mental illness, drug addiction or other conditions. It charges clients up to $100,000 a year for room and treatment.

Because the treatment is provided at the clinic, not at the homes, Hanbleceya maintains that they are not residential treatment facilities – thus they don’t need to be licensed and regulated by the state Department of Health. Read more »


Mental health sales tax: Tell Tacoma what it’s buying

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

The Tacoma City Council is moving quietly and quickly toward an increase in the city’s sales tax. It ought to be moving noisily and slowly.

The tenth-of-a-percent tax, which the council could enact Tuesday, is expected to bring in $2.6 million in 2013 and rising amounts thereafter.

It wouldn’t be a lot at the checkout counter – just a penny on a $10 purchase. Its intentions are good: preserving or expanding programs that improve mental health and reduce addiction. But it is a tax, and it needs more public discussion than it’s gotten so far.

One concern is that the council has no clear plan for spending much of the money. Instead of first identifying priorities, then collecting the tax, city officials want to get the tax on the books ASAP. Then they will launch a process to decide how it gets spent.

The haste is driven by desperation. Past councils and administrations have saddled the city with a scary revenue shortfall that threatens deep cuts to police and fire protection, and other vital public services. City funding for human services – homelessness and mental health programs among them – is endangered.

Half of the new tax – $1.3 million a year – could be used initially to replace existing funding for such programs. If the council moves quickly enough ­– by the end of March – it could start collecting the money this July.

Hence the rush. If the schedule slips past this month, collections would slip to October.
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