In an op-ed published by the Seattle Times on Thursday, Cassie Sauer, WSHA’s Executive Vice President, talks about the need for continued reform to our state’s mental health system. An excerpt:
“NEWLY appointed Western State Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange was facing possible jail time for refusing to comply with a court order to admit a patient currently being held at a Pierce County community hospital. Western State is full, and Strange said she wouldn’t override the hospital’s waiting list, where other patients who are sicker have priority.
“The problem at Western State is capacity to house patients, not the decision-making of its leaders. The decisions Strange, as CEO, is making are the same ones hospital leaders and clinicians make daily. Our ethical obligation, always, is to treat the sickest patient first. Treating a patient with a broken leg before a patient with a heart attack would be ethically untenable. Mental illnesses have the same variations in urgency that physical illnesses do….
“The legal mandate for reform is in place. One challenge is getting patients into the state’s hospitals. …The flip side of the challenge is getting people out. There are many people who are stable enough to leave Western State, but the process for assessing and placing patients who are ready to leave is intolerably slow. We don’t have enough facilities or housing for people with chronic mental illness, partially because the state’s payment rates are insufficient to maintain safe facilities and hire enough qualified staff.”