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Western State Hospital proposes discharging 150 patients

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on Sep. 26, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
September 26, 2011 4:37 pm

The state psychiatric hospital in Lakewood would shed 150 patients and close five wards, including two used for patients with dementia and traumatic brain injuries, under budget-cutting proposals submitted to the governor last week.

The cuts would mean a loss of about 220 jobs at Western State Hospital, officials say.

State agencies laid out how they would cut 10 percent of their budgets in memos that Gov. Chris Gregoire will consider as she writes a proposal for state lawmakers to consider in an emergency session starting Nov. 28. While agencies are pitching some of the ideas as options to be avoided rather than proposals they are endorsing, the hospital stands behind these.

Hospital CEO Jess Jamieson said the loss of staff would be difficult but the 150 patients involved are ready for community settings — if there were places available and equipped to deal with them.

That’s a big ‘if.’ Many of the patients are there because nursing homes and homes run by caretakers can’t handle them, and hospital workers and state legislators who attended a budget presentation by Jamieson this morning say they doubt that will change.

Their worries ran especially high over the 60 patients in special wards mainly for people over age 50, many with dementia and brain injuries. The federal government has stopped paying for them because they won’t improve at a hospital, but they tend to have histories of violence.

“No nursing home will accept them,” James Robinson, a counselor who is president of Washington Federation of State Employees local 793, said after speaking at the meeting. “He (Jamieson) is trying to force them out into the community.”

The Department of Social and Health Services will come up with a plan for helping nursing and adult-family homes develop the credentials or insurance necessary to accept patients who might lash out, said hospital Medical Director Brian Waiblinger.

It’s unusual in other states for state hospitals to care for people who have dementia and brain injuries rather than psychiatric disorders, Jamieson said.

But union leaders said people don’t want their elderly parents or grandparents living in homes with potentially dangerous patients.

The department also needs to develop plans for 90 mostly younger patients, whom Jamieson said are ready to be discharged but lack the right housing or safety net in the community, or have aggressive histories of their own.

A sixth ward of 30 patients would close at Eastern State Hospital in Spokane.

Hospital officials said no one would be simply dumped into communities. Releases would be phased in as places open up for patients to go and a portion of the money saved by closing the wards would pay for the community care.

“As long as you increase community services to meet the needs of these folks,” Waiblinger said, “I think it’s a doable plan.”

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