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Tag: Western State Hospital


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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2013 Legislature must deal with mental illness

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

People with untreated mental illnesses don’t fund political campaigns or employ powerful lobbyists. It was easy for Washington and other states to skimp on their care after the economy went south five years ago.

It’s taken a whack with a two-by-four – an onslaught of preventable assaults and murders – to persuade some lawmakers that psychiatric care for the poor is not a luxury that can be dropped in hard times.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the catalyst. The killer may or may not have suffered from a psychosis, but – following other atrocities in Colorado and elsewhere – he taught the country how dangerous a disturbed man with a deadly weapon can be.

Three priorities need action from Legislature this year: care, involuntary commitment and access to guns. The three are closely interconnected.

Above all, the state must provide more therapy options to more people. People with serious psychiatric disorders tend to be poor, for obvious reasons. Few can afford the intensive treatment and continuing care they need.

Mental illness should not be equated with threat. The vast majority of those who live with some kind of disorder are harmless. But a small fraction – notably males with schizophrenia, a history of drug abuse and a record of violence – account for more than their share of attacks on others. They are especially prominent in mass shootings.

Lawmakers can lower that threat through simple humanity, by making psychiatric care more accessible to everyone who needs it but can’t pay for it. That means expanded outpatient therapy and case management, and it may mean restoring beds at Western State and Eastern State hospitals.
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Lakewood is no place for sex predators

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Folks in Olympia may be soon looking for a new community to host 300 violent sexual psychopaths. Lakewood, call your home security service.

Those predators are now housed and supposedly getting treated at the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island. They are the worst of the worst – a small fraction of the state’s sex offenders.

They wind up at the SCC only if a court has concluded that they have committed a violent sex crime and suffer from “a mental abnormality” that hinders their control of sexual violence and are “more likely than not to engage in predatory acts of violence again.”

There’s a reason they confined to an island surrounded by deep, frigid water.

The Legislature now faces intense financial pressure to move them to the mainland. The SCC began to look like an extravagance last year, when the state shut down the regular prison on McNeil Island. The prison had shared some of the Special Commitment Center’s costs, an arrangement that originally made a good argument for the location.

Now the SCC is sitting out there by itself with an annual budget of more than $30 million a year. A large chunk of that, $6.6 million, results from the island location. The center also needs repairs and improvements – an estimated $12.2 million worth of work in the 2013-2015 biennium.

Most lawmakers would dearly love to divert that money to their pet projects.
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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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Mental illness & violence: Look behind the anecdotes

Mental illnesses can be scary – think of the screaming meltdown an American Airlines flight suffered last month. The bizarre behavior of some people with severe psychiatric disorders has amplified public perceptions that they are dangerous.

This narrative got another boost Friday when a one psychiatric patient at Western State Hospital killed another, reportedly by jamming a pen or pencil into his ear. In response, the Department of Social and Health Services released the following fact sheet:

Fact 1: The vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent.

Here is what researchers say about the link between mental illness and violence:

– “Although studies suggest a link between mental illnesses and violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006).”

– “…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).”

– “The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994).”

-“People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999).”

Fact 2: The public is misinformed about the link between mental illness and violence.
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A test of humanity for Washington’s Legislature

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

The impact of Washington’s looming $2 billion shortfall is coming into focus, and it is ugly indeed.

Prepping for an emergency legislative budgeting session in November, Gov. Chris Gregoire has asked her department chiefs to tell her what a 10 percent loss of funding would mean for the people their agencies serve.

Susan Dreyfus, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, released three scenarios this week. The first scenario includes cuts backed by some kind of logic, however tenuous.

Example: Eliminating beds for 150 patients at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, including people with dementia, traumatic brain injury and histories of violent behavior. Read more »


SCC’s time running out on McNeil Island?

State Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Bellevue, visited recently to talk about the most recent revenue forecast (a shortfall of $1.2 billion to $2 billion) and provide some background on what can and can’t be cut when the Legislature goes into special session in November.

As chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, Hunter is one of the Legislature’s main budget writers. So it’s worth mentioning that he said one revenue saver would be to move the Special Commitment Center for violent sex offenders off McNeil Island.

That’s been discussed before, but now seems all but inevitable with the closure of

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Lakewood-Camp Murray marriage could be compatible

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

The City of Lakewood and Camp Murray have gotten chummier in recent weeks over the issue of moving the camp’s main gate. But should they take the relationship to the next level?

Lakewood and Camp Murray will explore whether it makes sense for the city to annex the 240-acre state-owned property. The site – home to the Air and Army national guards as well as the state’s emergency operations center – is currently in unincorporated Pierce County. But it’s within Lakewood’s urban growth boundary, and the city has long been interested in annexing it as well as Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

At first glance at least, annexation would seem to be more in Camp Murray’s interest than in Lakewood’s. The city likely would assume some infrastructure and maintenance responsibilities – such as contracting for road repair and snow removal. But it wouldn’t get sales or property tax revenue because there are no businesses or residences at the camp. Read more »