Violence a 'Constant Disruption' at State's Mental Hospitals

By John Ryan

A new report says violence is a “constant disruption” at Washington state’s two main psychiatric hospitals. But, the CEO of the state’s biggest mental hospital isn't sold on some of the findings. The report calls for dozens of reforms to make Western State Hospital and Eastern State Hospital safer for patients and staff alike. 

The main entrance of Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Wash. KUOW/John Ryan photo. It was jointly commissioned by The Department of Social and Health Services and the SEIU Healthcare union that represents much of the front-line staff at the hospitals.

The report’s number-one recommendation? Hire more people. It's something the unions have been calling for for years to make their members safer. The state hospitals are two of the state's most dangerous workplaces. Last year, Western patients assaulted staff at least 322 times. One Western patient killed another, and a third committed suicide.

The new report says budget cuts have led to staffing levels that conflict with the hospital’s mission to help patients recover from severe mental illness. Western State Hospital’s new CEO, Ron Adler, said he’s not so sure that his hospital is under-staffed. “I think we have staff scheduling problems,” Adler said. “A significant number of our staff are off on Fri-Sat-Sun, and we’re using individuals who are less familiar with our patients.”

Photo: The main entrance of Western State Hospital in Lakewood, Wash. KUOW/John Ryan photo.

The report by a New York safety consultant faulted the hospitals’ hierarchy, with staff discouraged or punished for suggesting improvements. CEO Adler said the hospital was working to improve the flow of ideas up the chain of command--from the front-line staff who bear the brunt of violence back up to management. The study did not estimate the cost of its two dozen recommendations.
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