With patients ordered into Western State Hospital instead winding up on a waiting list, Pierce County Court Commissioner Craig Adams is threatening to stop signing civil commitments that would send people to the Lakewood psychiatric facility.
The move is the latest step by Adams to take to task mental-health officials and the state Department of Social and Health Services for how psychiatric patients are treated.
Adams ordered DSHS and other officials to provide briefs by July 6 on how to unclog the waiting list and lessen the practice of holding patients intended for Western State in other facilities instead.
Because of the list, Adams on Monday questioned why he should sign any more civil-commitment orders.
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“Courts don’t sign orders just to sign orders,” he said.
Adams’ action stems from a contempt hearing earlier this month in which he ordered Western State CEO Cheryl Strange to jail if a patient with dementia wasn’t admitted to the hospital.
The patient had been ordered in April to go to Western State, but with a shortage of staff members and available beds, the hospital has been unable to take the man. He instead has been held in a general hospital.
In that contempt hearing, Adams ruled on the state’s practice of housing patients in a hospital bed under what is called a “single-bed certification.”
It’s a practice the State Supreme Court struck down in 2014 as unlawful, but which the Legislature since has made legal under certain circumstances.
But Adams ruled that state law doesn’t allow a patient to be boarded in a hospital for more than one 30-day stretch, as in the dementia patient’s case.
At the hospital, the patient — who has been restrained at times — has received medication, speech therapy and behavior management. But single-bed certifications don’t provide the broader care and services that would be available at Western State.
A judge last week stayed the contempt order, meaning Strange and another mental-health executive didn’t have to report to jail.
In a hearing Monday, Adams grilled state, county and other officials on why patients ordered to the hospital aren’t getting in. State law specifies that long-term civil commitments are to go to a state hospital.
As was done before, a Western State official described the shortage of staff members and beds as the reason the hospital can’t take more patients.
Adams also asked Western State officials how long it takes to discharge patients who are ready to leave.
Once they’re ready to be released, patients currently wait an average 176 days to actually leave, according to Western State officials.
In one recent case, Adams said a patient spent two years on the discharge list. In another, a patient was removed from the list just because the person had been moved to another ward, Adams said.
Western State and DSHS officials have argued that patients remain on the discharge list because there are no places with the needed services to house them in the community.