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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Staff numbers hinder Eastern State’s compliance with mental health evaluations

Eastern State Hospital continues to struggle with a federal judge’s order to evaluate criminal defendants for mental illness promptly. Delayed evaluation means defendants who may have a mental illness wait months for resolution of cases that can’t move forward until an Eastern State evaluator decides whether they’re competent to stand trial.

Lakeland Village gets reprieve

Federal officials have backed away from a threat to cut funding from Lakeland Village as a result of improvements responding to numerous violations. The Washington state Department of Social and Health Services on Thursday said that the federal government will maintain Medicaid funding for 83 residents under long-term care at Lakeland Village Nursing Facility in Medical Lake.

Family of Eastern State Hospital patient who died in 2013 files lawsuit

The family of a Tri-Cities man who died after being found bloody and unconscious on the floor of an Eastern State Hospital restroom in 2013 is suing. Misael Rodriguez, 43, was involuntarily committed for observation purposes in mid-August of that year and suffered the fatal injuries 11 days later in what his family members allege was an assault by another patient, according to a lawsuit filed in Spokane County Superior Court last week on behalf of the victim’s children. Rodriguez died Nov. 13, 2013, without regaining consciousness.

Fixing Foster Care: Fostering stability

As Diana Stegner lay in a hospital bed, alone, homeless and suicidal, she acknowledged her newborn son would be better off with someone else. Within hours Michelle Trotz cradled baby William as she welcomed him into her home. Trotz and her husband, David, first became foster parents four years ago. They wanted to help babies who needed them. Their home is among more than 500 across Spokane County licensed to care for children taken from their parents. Communities need foster homes because “we live in a broken society,” said Linda Rogers, a former foster care recruiter who got the Trotzes involved.    Foster parents are the backbone — some say heroes — of a system tasked with the toughest of jobs: caring for the children of broken homes. “There are never enough,” Rogers said. “You are asking people to completely change their lives.” The future of a foster child like William begins in the hands of many: social workers, attorneys, judges and advocates. And after the legal work is done, they are swept into the homes of people willing to fix dinners, help with homework, read bedtime stories and provide solace from nightmares – real or imagined. Foster care can be a child’s one constant during an often lengthy court process that leads to one of three destinations: reunification with the child’s birth parents, adoption, or freedom from state or parental oversight. Now there are new efforts to keep children with their families while state officials attempt to address mild neglect and abuse stemming from poverty and drug addiction.

Fixing foster care: ‘Where do I belong?’

Alkala Michener’s green eyes pool with tears as she recalls the night she lost her family: She was 7 years old, dressed in a Cinderella pink nightie, her lace-rimmed socks soaked and muddied as she ran away with her big brothers.    A social worker found the children wet and desperate to find their dad, running along a stretch of a north Spokane highway. The siblings were split up. Alkala went to a Newman Lake foster home and wouldn’t see her brothers again until they knocked on her door eight years later.    “For years, I had the impression (my family) didn’t want me,” she said.    Her story is all too common in Spokane County, where children are pulled from their families at three times the rate of those in King County. There are 985 children in Spokane foster homes, the highest number in five years. And hundreds more children are caught in bureaucratic limbo – separated from family as overwhelmed caseworkers open new files faster than they can close older cases.    Now evidence is mounting that taking children from the home, even for their own protection, may not always be what’s best. What awaits too many of them is a future marred by drugs, crime and homelessness – the vestiges of abandonment.     “Where do I belong?” Michener asks today. “That’s something I’ve looked for my whole life.”

Emeritus at South Hill under state investigation

An assisted living facility on Spokane’s South Side has been told to stop accepting new residents pending a state investigation of the facility. Emeritus at South Hill, 3708 E. 57th Ave., was issued the order on Sept. 19 by the Department of Social Health Services.

Medical marijuana patient can get custody of daughter

Billy Fisher doesn’t have to choose between his 16-month-old daughter and the medical marijuana he takes to manage his chronic back pain. In a case that could have implications in custody cases for parents who are medical marijuana patients, a Spokane County Superior Court judge sided with Fisher and said the state can’t require him to take inpatient chemical dependency treatment as a condition of gaining custody of his young daughter.

State, USDA sharing data to catch fraud

OLYMPIA – State and federal agencies are teaming up in an effort to fight food-stamp fraud. While the Washington Department of Social and Health Services is tracking people who misuse their benefits, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is going after stores that illegally redeem benefits in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. A new agreement between the two agencies is expected to help them find cheaters by analyzing each other’s data.

Holiday brighter for 32,060 people

On Friday, the Christmas Bureau wrapped up its last day at the fairgrounds, completing its quest to make Christmas happier for families in need. This year it served 32,060 people, distributing toys for 16,124 children and providing food vouchers for 9,877 households. The charity, which is organized by Catholic Charities, Volunteers of America and The Spokesman-Review, relies on reader donations to continue its 67-year-old tradition of helping low-income families. It still needs more than $75,000 to reach $525,000, the amount needed to fund the books, toys and food vouchers distributed.

DSHS to investigate complaints about tribe

YAKIMA – Two former Yakama Nation officials say they were fired for questioning how the tribe spends state and federal funds on social programs and whether some of the money was unfairly benefiting employees and their family members. Robert Ramirez, the tribe’s former deputy director who oversaw social services, said he documented a pattern of favoritism over many years in which people working in a program designed to serve children in foster care awarded themselves and family members state-provided dollars.

DSHS agrees to pay former foster children $5.3 million

The Department of Social and Health Services agreed Monday to pay $5.3 million to four people who were subjected to years of physical and sexual abuse as children in a Stevens County foster home. The payout would be among the highest of its kind in state history and settle a federal lawsuit. Litigation began in 2008, and the case now awaits final approval by U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush.

DSHS sends mobile office to Ferry County

The Department of Social and Health Services said Monday it sent a mobile Customer Service Office to Keller in Ferry County to assist residents who need access to services.

Complaints at DSHS rise as state funding drops

Demand for social services increased dramatically at the same time Washington state cut those services for an increasing number of poor, jobless residents. The number of state residents experiencing long-term unemployment tripled and the number of poor adults increased by 11 percent between 2008 and 2009, according to the Department of Social and Health Services Client Survey released Tuesday. There also were 13 percent more children living in poverty and 39 percent more hungry families.

Search for a stable condition

Alicia Ponce-Myers should be swimming. Or playing basketball with her friends. At the very least the 12-year-old from Tonasket, Wash., should have been able to enjoy summer Bible camp: she raised $235 by washing cars, working a spaghetti feed and other tasks in order to go.

DSHS official resigns over fraud uproar

SEATTLE — The official in charge of Washington state’s food stamp and child support agency has resigned amid an uproar over televised remarks he made that appeared to dismiss evidence of welfare fraud.