State mental health officials plan to release as many as 60 patients from Washington’s largest psychiatric hospital in order to reduce some of the stress that the new coronavirus has placed on staff at the 850-bed facility, officials said Friday.
Sixteen workers and six patients at Western State Hospital have tested positive for COVID-19 and one patient died.
Moving some of the civil-commitment patients to group homes or supported-living facilities will help relieve some of the strain on the system, said Sean Murphy, Behavioral Health assistant secretary.
Western State already faced staffing shortages before COVID-19, he said, and after the outbreak, they released some of the high-risk staff for their protection, which made the situation more difficult.
“The intent of this action is to provide the staffing necessary to continue to cope with the impacts of the spread of the virus,” Murphy told staff in an email.
Hospital workers would receive a list of patients on Friday and will start to identify what will be needed to facilitate their discharge, he said.
“We will be making a five to seven-day push including the weekend to discharge or transfer 60 civil patients” to state funded residential settings, Murphy said.
Brad Forbes, director of public policy and advocacy for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said they support the plan as long as the state follows through and makes sure the patients’ needs are met.
“If they transition into a setting where staff have appropriate training to address their behavioral health needs, we’re fine with it,” he said.
The patients being considered for release have been civilly committed to the hospital. Under Washington’s law, this would include people who a court determined were a danger to themselves or others, would be in danger of serious physical harm due to not being able to maintain “essential human needs of health or safety.”
Murphy told The Associated Press no patient would be released unless they had a place to live.
They would only be moved to “a place where they can continue to be successful,” he said. “We have to hook them up with the right resources. We won’t put someone in a spot that they can’t handle.”
Five workers at three of the agency’s residential facilities have also tested positive for COVID-19, officials said. Two staff members at Eastern State Hospital, and two workers at the Fircrest School, a residential center that cares for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, have COVID-19. One worker at the Child Study and Treatment Center also has the disease.
Western State Hospital has been the target of state and federal investigations for safety violations in recent years. It lost its accreditation and federal funding from the Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services after it continually failed health and safety inspections.