If officials at the Department of Social and Health Services’ mental health division are right, there’s something of a Catch-22 going on at Western State Hospital in Lakewood.
The federal government is threatening to cut off almost $16 million in federal Medicaid and Medicare funds to the state’s largest psychiatric hospital — for the third time this year — because inspectors found conditions that pose a danger to patients.
But according to the Behavioral Health and Service Integration Administration, Western State can’t operate safely with the money it already receives from state and federal sources. The $9.4 million it got in the latest state budget wasn’t enough.
So lose the federal funding and it becomes even harder to provide a safe environment for patients. Staff, too, would be more at danger with a big funding cut as that would likely translate into fewer workers to handle patients at the 800-bed facility.
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It’s easy enough to believe that Western State needs more funding than it already has, given the short shrift the state has given mental health since the Great Recession.
How bad is the state of mental health care here? Washington ranked 48th in the nation for availability of psychiatric treatment, according to a November 2014 report by the nonprofit Mental Health America. Along with Arizona, Mississippi, Nevada and Louisiana, Washington was one of the states with the highest prevalence of mental illness and lowest rates of access to care.
Even if Western State’s resources are stretched to the limit, it must give the highest priority to patient safety — and to doing whatever it takes to keep from losing federal money.
But getting a third 90-day termination notice in a span of nine months should be a wake up call for lawmakers to figure out if there’s more going on here than just a lack of money.