Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital has lost its federal certification and $53 million in annual federal funds after a recent unannounced inspection discovered a list of health and safety violations.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services notified the state on Monday that Western State Hospital is out of compliance, and the federal government will not make payments for patients admitted after July 8. They’ll cover current patients for up to 30 days.
Among the violations found during the last month’s survey was a failure to identify and remove materials that could be used by patients to strangle themselves, according the CMS letter.
The federal agency said the Department of Social and Health Services has made “significant strides toward correcting its areas of non-compliance.” But the latest inspection found that the hospital doesn’t meet conditions that allow it to receive federal funds.
State officials say they’ll continue to make improvements, despite the loss of certification.
“Our hospital leadership team and others in the department are focused on reviewing the report from CMS and identifying the remaining areas of concern,” said Cheryl Strange, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services.
Once the federal funds are cut, the state will cover the loss, Strange said. Federal dollars make up almost 20 percent of the hospital’s annual funding.
The 800-plus bed facility has been plagued by problems for years that ranged from assaults on health care workers to escapes by dangerous patients. Past inspections also found there was a lack of trained or qualified staff, fear of retaliation from managers and too much focus on bureaucracy over staff safety.
Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, held a news conference at the Lakewood hospital last month to announce his five-year plan for the state’s mental health system. Parts of the plan include keeping forensic and some civil commitment patients at Western State Hospital, while moving other patients to community settings.
“These findings help affirm that our plan is the right thing to do, and we are as committed as ever to implementing the reforms and systemic transformations that we know are necessary,” Inslee said in a statement Monday. “We need to provide our patients care in community-based facilities where they can be closer to friends and family.”
But Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said Inslee’s plan “offered nothing new and dodged the difficult part of how to actually pay for and implement the corrections that are obviously needed.”
“While the loss of federal funding is incredibly problematic, today’s announcement should come as no surprise given the years of warnings and failure of the hospital’s leadership to correct a host of problems,” Braun said. “Sadly, instead of solutions, we’ve seen continual management failures and a lack of long-term vision. While our governor has offered plenty of platitudes about the importance of mental health, his priorities seem to be elsewhere.”
Sen. Steve O’Ban, a Republican, said the state is in a mental health care crisis and the governor should consider a special session to find an emergency solution.
“You have to see this as a failure of leadership on the governor’s part,” O’Ban told The Associated Press. “This has been a management problem.”
The Legislature has provided funding to help with staffing and other needs, but the hospital has continued to be problematic, he said.
“This is the wake-up call of wake-up calls,” O’Ban said. “We need to think of this as our McCleary for mental health,” he said, referring to a 2012 Washington Supreme Court ruling that said the state wasn’t spending enough on basic education for public school students and imposed a fine.
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