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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington

State making improvements at troubled psychiatric hospital

April 11, 2017 Updated Wed., April 12, 2017 at 12:37 p.m.

This Nov. 18, 2015, file photo shows a sign near the main entrance of Western State Hospital, the largest psychiatric hospital in the state, in Lakewood, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
This Nov. 18, 2015, file photo shows a sign near the main entrance of Western State Hospital, the largest psychiatric hospital in the state, in Lakewood, Wash. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)
By Martha Bellisle Associated Press

SEATTLE – Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that he’s encouraged by changes made to ensure the state’s largest psychiatric hospital is safer for patients and staff, but some workers are critical of the efforts.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited Western State Hospital last year over health and safety violations and gave it until July 2 to fix the problems or lose millions of federal dollars.

Inslee’s tour of the hospital on Tuesday came almost a year after two dangerous patients escaped from the 800-bed facility and led law enforcement on a statewide manhunt.

Inslee told reporters after the tour that increases in staffing have benefited patients and he hopes to get the budget resources to keep that work going.

“We know this has been a very challenged institution,” Inslee said, “but I’m very hopeful.”

Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange said they’ve also made improvements to make the hospital more secure.

Some workers are critical of the changes, saying officials are more focused on politics than clinical care.

Nursing Supervisor Paul Vilja told The Associated Press that the Department of Social and Health Services has added administrative positions at the hospital, but there remains a shortage of nurses and psychiatrists.

That has resulted in a “massive” use of voluntary overtime or the regular implementation of mandatory overtime, he said.

“Those psychiatrists who complain are retaliated against,” Vilja said. “I know of one that has been told to report to his office and have no interaction with staff because he complained of improper discharge practices.”

Kelly Stowe, a spokeswoman for the department, said claims that employees who speak out are retaliated against are “simply untrue.”

Dr. Joseph Wainer, a psychiatrist, said the situation at the hospital becomes worse each day.

“It’s worse because there’s no tolerance for disagreement with the administration,” Wainer said in an interview.

The hospital has a lot of temporary staff and doctors who are contracted out for three-month periods, which makes it difficult for them to create connections with patients and respond effectively to outbursts or violence, he said.

“It was clear what we’re dealing with here is not just traumatized patients, but traumatized staff as well,” he said. “To make it better, we need a top down approach that shows compassion not to just for the patients but also for the staff.”

Stowe said the hospital has hired more than 350 nursing, custodial, food service, mental health technicians, counselors and other staff full time.

“We still have a problem with hiring psychiatrists,” she said. “That is not just a Western State Hospital problem, that is a nationwide issue.”

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