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Sunday, November 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County signs deal with Central Washington counties for mental health beds

Spokane County will get a few more beds at Eastern State Hospital for mentally ill patients and avoid daily fines as a result of a deal penned earlier this month.

Commissioner Todd Mielke signed an agreement last week with 10 Central Washington counties allocating 10 more beds at the Medical Lake facility for patients from Spokane County. The deal is pending approval from Gov. Jay Inslee’s office because it is a workaround of a new state law prohibiting the transfer and lease of beds from one “regional support network” to another, said Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn.

“We used to be able to reallocate, loan – actually pay for and buy beds from different (regional support networks) based on needs, those who weren’t using them and those who needed them,” O’Quinn said.

The agreement must be reviewed on a quarterly basis. Christine Barada, director of the county’s Community Services, Housing and Community Development Department, said she hopes the county can work with the state to establish a more permanent contract.

“I hope that the state will help us figure out how to do this, now that the Greater Columbia Regional Support Network has been outstanding stepping forward,” Barada said.

The Greater Columbia group – made up of Asotin, Benton, Columbia, Franklin, Garfield, Kittitas, Klickitat, Walla Walla, Whitman and Yakima counties – rarely needs its full allotment of beds at Eastern, Barada said.

Spokane County frequently has a need greater than its allocation, and if the county uses too many beds, it must pay a daily penalty totaling about $600 per patient.

The need for more beds at Eastern was exacerbated earlier this year when Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center had to scale back their mental health services as a result of staff shortages. Sacred Heart now has half the capacity for patients as they did before the staff shortage, putting a strain on the county to find beds at other community organizations and at Eastern.

“That’s where the pressure is,” Barada said.

County commissioners applauded the agreement, voting unanimously to sign it. The agreement will take effect Jan. 1.

“This is a good thing for us, that we finally got to this point,” O’Quinn said.

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