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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."

Washington's Troubled Western State Hospital Gets Another Chance At Turnaround

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Go. Jay Inslee, left, alongside Western State Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange announces an agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to turn around WSH and avert the immediate loss of more than $50 million in federal funding.

Washington’s troubled Western State Hospital won’t lose nearly $50 million in federal funding -- for now. On Friday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a 13-month turnaround agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“My motivation for doing this is not just the federal government, it’s because of people who are living here, who are seeking treatment right here,” Inslee said. “This is a little bit personal. I got a friend with a son who’s at this institution right now, a guy I went to law school with. I know the pain of parents who want to have their kids restored to mental health and they can be if they get excellent care.”

Inslee said the hospital has been run on the cheap for years, and the time has come to hire more staff and boost salaries. The current state budget includes funding for 50 additional staff, and the hospital has nearly 180 job vacancies.

In April, Inslee brought in a new CEO to run Western State. The move came after two high-risk patients escaped the facility through a window. The 800-bed hospital has also been plagued by assaults on staff and patients in recent years.

The purpose of the Systems Improvement Agreement with the federal government is to ensure that Western State Hospital fully complies with the Medicare Conditions of Participation. Federal regulators can end the agreement at any time if they feel the hospital is not progressing fast enough toward full compliance. The state would have no right to appeal under that scenario.

The focus of the turnaround plan will be on improving patient treatment and safety at the facility.

Newly appointed CEO Cheryl Strange has hired a new chief of security and also pledged to “clean up” the hospital grounds to make them more comfortable and appealing for the patients.

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."