Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday sacked the chief executive officer of Western State Hospital, but it’s going to take more than a changing of the guard to ease concerns at the chronically troubled facility.
We were reminded why mismanagement in faraway Lakewood matters here when two civil commitment patients escaped the hospital and one of them made it back to Spokane County.
Anthony Garver, a 28-year-old psychiatric patient, crawled out of a hospital window on the night of April 6 and bought a bus ticket to Spokane. Once notified, federal and local law enforcement, SWAT teams, police dogs and helicopters swarmed the area. Residents were told to stay indoors.
Anxious moments stretched into hours before a canine unit sniffed out Garver in a pile of rubbish not far from his parents’ house.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich wasn’t happy that 12 hours lapsed between the escape and his office being notified. Nonetheless, law enforcement had a good idea that Garver would head to Spokane, because that’s what he did in the past when he skipped out on work release and a halfway house.
After his 2013 escape, he was accused of fatally stabbing a Snohomish County woman but was deemed incompetent to stand trial while undergoing treatment for schizophrenia.
Law enforcement officials believe he has a cache of weapons hidden somewhere. His record also includes threatening to detonate a bomb at a Department of Social and Health Services office and at Pig Out in the Park.
Garver escaped with another patient, who was captured Thursday morning. During the manhunt, two other hospital patients took “unescorted leaves.” One is still missing.
Garver is said to have escaped through a key-locked window on his ward. Three days later, the Associated Press reported, hospital officials emailed staff asking them to check windows. Seventeen windows on two wards had either loose bolts, panes or frames.
In firing CEO Ron Adler, Inslee said, “The ongoing issues at Western have justifiably eroded public confidence – and my confidence – regarding the management of this troubled hospital.”
Adler was replaced by Cheryl Strange, former assistant director for the DSHS Mental Health Division. The task ahead of her is enormous because shoddy security is but one problem plaguing the institution. Struggles to meet court orders for timely treatment and an inability to fill key positions have kept the hospital in turmoil.
Because of those setbacks, the hospital has hired a new compliance officer, chief medical officer and chief nursing executive. The assistant secretary at DSHS, which oversees the hospital, is also relatively new.
“It is clear transformational cultural change is needed at this hospital,” Inslee said.
Yes, a new team is in place, but the state can’t afford to relax until it sees actual improvement. Public safety demands it.
To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”