Tacoma, Washington. – In a rare move, 22 counties in Washington state banded together to sue the Washington Department of Social Health Services (DSHS) over mental health services or lack thereof.
The complaint, filed in Pierce County Superior Court on Wednesday, accuses DSHS of refusing to provide court-ordered services.
King County Enforcement General Counsel David Hackett said there are two instances where the state has failed.
- The state does not provide mental health evaluations to individuals ordered through courts to undergo mental health evaluations despite being incompetent.
- The DSHS has not provided law enforcement and prosecutors with full details of its plans to release people from state mental hospitals and has not followed its “normal notification process” until it can comply with another court order. pointed out.
“When you have legal obligations and court orders in front of you, you can’t say, ‘It’s too hard, I won’t do it,'” Hackett said.
Hackett said the concern is both public safety and the mental health of people at state facilities. He explained that the current development could result in the perpetrators of stalking victims being released from state facilities without notice.
Washington County Association President Eric Johnson said an estimated 200 people were on the list ready for release. This includes those accused of violent felonies, who are usually released after a planning and preparation process with local law enforcement.
The lawsuit was quickly settled, in part because DSHS began sending letters in early August stating that many patients would be released from state mental hospitals on September 7.
A passage in the letter states, “DSHS is by this letter notifying patients in your jurisdiction of pending discharges. However, at this time, many discharge plans, including locations, remain pending. It is written.
It’s no secret that the state faces major problems meeting the demands. The company previously closed beds at Western State Hospital, but just watched the balance grow. In January 2023, Fox 13 reported that the number of patients on the waiting list had reached 850.
Ultimately, the judge ruled that Washington disrespected the state for not providing services to the mentally ill in prison. A federal judge has ordered states to pay more than $100 million in fines for keeping people waiting weeks or months for treatment.
In early August, Gov. Inslee announced that the state would acquire a mental hospital previously owned by Cascade Behavioral Health in order to add about 100 beds to the state’s beleaguered mental health system. .
The move has been welcomed, but it will take some time before the facility is up and running. Meanwhile, people are kept away from services.
“These people often have serious mental health conditions or co-existing substance abuse conditions,” said Isabel Jones of the King County Department of Social Services. “These people are disproportionately people of color, often people who have traveled back and forth between multiple star systems over the years.”
The two sides are miles apart. The state told Fox 13 it was complying with a federal court order known as the “True Blood Order.” The county insists the order they are referring to has nothing to do with the moves they are making.
To comply with the federal court’s ruling, more beds must be made available for inmates awaiting assessment and recovery services, the state said. To make room for these beds, the plan is to discharge patients who are not in custody for civil violent felonies.
The county argues that the “true blood order” has nothing to do with short-term evaluation hospitalizations, and that states have begun to cite court orders as reasons for denying court-ordered mental health evaluations.
“The new lawsuit filed by the county today is in direct conflict with the federal court’s order,” DSHS said in a statement. “Even as the county calls on state and superior courts to ignore federal court orders, it will not be easy to address this multi-layered problem.”
The state legislature has pledged an additional $2 billion to build a new hospital, but it will be years before the facility opens. Meanwhile, the demand for beds continues to grow.
DSHS says it has seen an approximately 145% increase in service requests over the nine years.
But with the state’s refusal to provide services, the county is now forced to fill the gap, warning that the county is already overburdened with its own mental health needs. there is King County voters recently approved a $1.2 billion crisis treatment center tax to increase the city’s own number of treatment beds.
Mr Jones warned that of the estimated 200 people scheduled to be released from state mental hospitals, about 20 are “not quite ready” for release.
“We are already aware of several cases that have not yet been able to find a home, and Western State Hospital has released the individual to a shelter, although it believes there is at least one case. I did,” Jones said.
The county now has until Sept. 8 to seek a preliminary injunction from Pierce County Superior Court. It’s unclear how many patients in state facilities will be released by that date.
Full statement from DSHS:
“With demand for behavioral health services exploding, the Department of Social Health Services and dedicated staff are working to provide the state’s most complex, even when others are unwilling or unable to provide such care. continue to care for patients.
“This new lawsuit filed today by the county is in direct conflict with the federal court order. is not easy to deal with.”
“In the last nine fiscal years, requests for DSHS, which provide inpatient evaluation and rehabilitation services, have increased by approximately 145%. This unexpectedly large increase in county criminal court orders is already adding to hospitals. “The forensic system. And we are working efficiently.The department does not have the authority to build beds.”
“We are awaiting county permits and other construction dilemmas as we wait for more than $2 billion in funding already approved by Congress for the construction of new forensic hospitals and other facilities that will be operational within the next few years. We are grateful and we will continue to move forward.” With multiple new facilities, the demand for beds is only increasing. “