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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."

Staffing Shortage Creates Crisis Situation At Western State,_Washington,_2010.jpg
An aerial view of Western State Hospital in 2010.

A staffing shortage at Western State Hospital has created a crisis situation. Federal inspectors this week determined that patients and staff face immediate risk for harm.

That means the state psychiatric hospital could lose federal funding.

The situation is so bad at Western State that the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid issued six notices of immediate jeopardy. The surveyors reviewed recent patient deaths and assaults involving patients and staff.

The hospital currently has more than 300 staff vacancies despite recently approved pay raises. Psychiatrists and nurses are in especially short supply.

Carla Reyes, the assistant secretary in charge of state mental hospitals, said “there is no sugar coating” the problem.

“We are very concerned about the immediate jeopardy here at Western,” she said. “We need to take it very seriously.”

Reyes said in the short-term they’re halting a 30-bed expansion at the hospital. Managers are also developing a plan of correction.

The hospital has 30 days to correct the problems or lose federal funding.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."