May 15, 2015, SEATTLE, Wash. — Governor Jay Inslee signed the suspect and inmate guarding and payment bill (SB 5593) into law this morning. This legislation sets payment and guarding rules for patients who are in custody, and is a legislative success for patients, staff, law enforcement and local governments.
People who are in the custody of law enforcement sometimes need hospital care, but when a violent suspect or convict is in the hospital, there can be a risk of injury to other patients and to hospital staff. An additional issue has been that there is no standard payment rate for services paid for by law enforcement agencies, which created uncertainty for both sides. In previous years, bills addressing similar issues led to conflict among local government, law enforcement and hospital organizations.
This year, the organizations jointly supported a comprehensive new bill, SB 5593. This law requires that patients who are suspected or convicted of a violent or sexual crime be guarded during their hospital stay. The bill also addresses payment for care: In cases where the hospital and the local agencies have not already negotiated rates, the new law establishes a payment structure based on rates set by the Department of Labor and Industries.
“We all came to the table with genuine concerns about safety and payment stability,” said Cassie Sauer, Advocacy and Government Affairs Senior Vice President for the Washington State Hospital Association. “This was an important issue for our hospitals because they were sincerely worried about keeping staff and other patients safe.”
“We wanted to address those safety issues as well,” said Candice Bock, Government Relations Advocate for the Association of Washington Cities. “We also wanted to create a more predictable and transparent payment structure so that we could do a better job of anticipating the costs to taxpayers.”
“Our officers take seriously the responsibility to keep hospital staff and patients safe,” said James McMahan, Policy Director for the WA Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. “This bill makes clear what everyone’s role is. It also does something else important: it provides needed flexibility to allow the officer to leave if there is another urgent public safety need.”
The hospital association and the law enforcement entities have also been working together to increase the number of suspects and inmates enrolled in Medicaid, which will help people get the care they need whether in or out of jail.
State Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, who sponsored the bill in the state Senate, said he got the idea for the bill when he looked into the issue of violence in hospital emergency rooms. He said he was surprised to learn there was no law requiring law enforcement agencies to post a guard when they bring potentially dangerous inmates or suspects to hospital emergency rooms for treatment.
“At its core this is really an issue of public safety,” he said, “but when we entered into a constructive dialogue with law enforcement agencies and hospitals it became clear we needed to sort out reimbursement issues as well. I’m glad we were able to come up a bill that addresses these issues.”