The interim CEO at Washington's largest state-run psychiatric facility is leaving for the private sector as federal regulators decide whether to pull certification and $53 million a year in funding from the hospital over safety and quality of care concerns.
The departing Marylouise Jones, who has worked at Western State Hospital in Lakewood for more than 20 years, has served as the hospital's top official since September 2017.
Jones' exit also comes as the state is taking steps toward reshaping the aging 857-bed hospital to focus on patients who are receiving treatment as part of the criminal justice system. A federal judge has slapped the hospital with millions in fines for not providing timely services to defendants who have mental illnesses.
Washington officials hope to treat nearly all civil, or noncriminal, patients in community hospitals around the state to free up space for patients in the hospital's criminal wards. Lawmakers and health officials contend civil patients are better served in smaller settings closer to home. Western State typically has more than 500 civil patients.
Whether Jones' exit has ties to the pending results of the federal inspection — which wrapped up on May 25 — is unclear. She wasn't available for comment Friday after a request from The News Tribune.
DSHS spokeswoman Kelly Stowe said she wouldn't speak for Jones about what prompted the job switch, noting only that Jones "got an amazing opportunity" with a private mental health provider.
In a letter to hospital staff Friday, Jones said "It is with a heavy heart and much soul searching that I have decided to leave state service and take a new opportunity outside of Western State Hospital."
"The new position will allow me to gain expertise in the community side of our statewide mental health system," she added.
Western State has worked to comply with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for years. The hospital first entered a 13-month agreement with the federal agency to improve in June of 2016. It has since been extended and reworked multiple times.
Some of the problems at the facility include assaults on patients and staff as well as escapes of high-risk patients. Hospital officials have touted progress in security and safety in recent months despite what DSHS Secretary Cheryl Strange has described as “dilapidated facilities” at Western State.
“We have made vast improvements to the level of care,” Strange told reporters in May.
During the most recent CMS survey of the hospital, the feds issued an “immediate jeopardy” citation for fire-suppression equipment that could be used by patients to kill themselves. Western State proposed a plan to fix the problem, which state officials said was accepted.
If Western State is de-certified by the federal government, CMS would pull $53.2 million in funding per year, Stowe said.
The top job at Western State has seen significant turnover in the last few years.
Jones replaced Strange at the helm of Western State after she was promoted to lead DSHS. Strange was CEO at the hospital for roughly a year and a half after Ron Adler was fired in 2016. Adler lost his job after two men, one accused of murder, escaped from the hospital.
In her letter to hospital employees, Jones was optimistic about Western State's future.
"Each and every one of you should be so proud of the progress you have made transforming WSH, promoting patient recovery, and supporting safety hospital-wide," she said.