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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Mental Healthcare Professionals Decisions May Be Overruled By Patients' Family

File photo of the Washington State Capitol Building

More than 10,000 mental health patients were involuntarily hospitalized last year in Washington. But not every patient qualifies for forced hospitalization under the law.

Now some families want the right to appealwhen a mental health professional says their loved one is not sick enough to be committed.

Worried families packed into a hearing room Monday to tell tearful stories of their loved one’s battles with mental health problems. All of them said it was difficult to get proper treatment and that the system failed them.

Karen Shirmer says her brother’s battle with mental illness included hallucinations, paranoia and threatening behavior.

“People who are ill, they don’t know they’re ill," she says. "They don’t think they’re ill. And so they spend their time trying to fight you as family members who really love and care about them but if nobody listens then they can’t get the help that they need.”

Her brother died two years ago after an incident with the local S.W.A.T. team, he was shot dead.

If the current measure passes, the superior court could review a mental healthcare provider’s decision on involuntary commitment with added input from the patient’s family.

Critics of the measure say mental health providers are better informed to make these decisions. And these additional steps would congest an already overwhelmed system.