Inslee proposes plans to fix state mental health system

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled on Tuesday his budget and policy plans for fixing the state's struggling mental health system in the coming years.

Inslee said at a news conference in Burien that he wants to change the system from being "crisis-based" to one that focuses on prevention by providing mental health care to more people.

"There's too long of a line of people trying to get into the mental health system," he said.

The governor reiterated his plan to move mental health care away from large institutions to smaller community-based centers. He proposes opening housing in communities so that people can be treated in centers that are closer to their families.

"I am very confident that we can get this job done," Inslee said. "We know what works. We know how to fix this problem."

Inslee said he wanted to invest in the troubled Western State Hospital to address safety concerns there, but he didn't mention the rise in assaults at the state's largest psychiatric hospital.

A recent Associated Press investigation found that attacks by patients on staff and other patients has been increasing in recent years. The 850-plus bed facility in Lakewood also lost its certification by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and federal funding after it repeatedly failed health and safety inspections.

Workers at the hospital have said that they're in crisis mode and fear for their safety as they go into work each day. Nurses, counselors and others who care for patients must work an unhealthy and unsafe amount of overtime to keep the wards staffed, they say.

Inslee said there was a critical shortage in mental health workers across the state, and his remedy would be to provide scholarships for people interested in pursuing a career in that area.

His written plan calls for $56 million for infrastructure at Western and Eastern state hospitals. It doesn't mention an increase in staffing, which is what workers want.

The governor hopes to eventually move many of the civil commitment patients to community-based centers and reserve beds in Western State for forensic patients who are held through the criminal justice system.

He said they would need to talk with communities that are targeted to house some of the civilly committed patients.

They need to understand, he said, that "all of us can be touched by mental health."