mental health

Courtesy of Dawn Akerman

In recent months, court commissioners on both sides of the Cascades have found the state of Washington in contempt, and even imposed fines, over access to state psychiatric care for people with severe developmental disabilities.

Washington State Department of Corrections

Washington's Department of Corrections has agreed to improve conditions for inmates with mental illness at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Under a court-approved settlement reached last week, the agency will open a new minimum- and medium-security unit for these inmates, with the goal of reducing the amount of time they spend locked up in their cells.

Climate change topped Gov. Jay Inslee's list of priorities in his 2019 State of the State speech.
Northwest News Network Photo/Austin Jenkins

Warning that Washington state is at a "tipping point," Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday delivered a State of the State address that called on lawmakers to address carbon pollution, "transform" the mental health system and save Puget Sound orcas.

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is taking the first step toward a plan to help house and treat psychiatric patients who have been involved in the criminal justice system: a new, 500-bed state mental hospital.

Austin Jenkins / NW News Network

A Washington state senator who says he’s heard from “literally hundreds of parents” of adult children who are struggling with mental illness or addiction wants to allow families to petition for temporary guardianship.

Austin Jenkins

On a recent evening in Vancouver, Washington, more than 80 people gathered at the local affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They were there for a forum organized by a fledging group of moms whose severely mentally ill children have struggled to get the help they need in Washington state — sometimes with deadly consequences.

“We are all part of a tribe that we have joined whether we wanted to or not,” mother Jerri Clark told the packed room.

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Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital is no longer in immediate jeopardy of losing federal funding.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Federal inspectors have found serious safety violations at Western State Hospital that could increase the chances of patient suicides. The finding this week has the potential to further imperil $65 million in annual federal funding the state receives to operate the 857-bed psychiatric hospital near Tacoma.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

One night about a year ago, the lights in Brian's Tacoma apartment suddenly went out. He was in his bedroom. When he walked out to see what had happened, he said he found his adult daughter who lived with him had stuck a bread knife into an electrical outlet.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

For the last several years, Washington state lawmakers have been working on a response to a state Supreme Court order to fully fund schools. Now they’re signaling a shift to the next big challenge: mental health.

At a news conference Friday at Western State Hospital, Republican state Sen. Steve O’Ban framed Washington’s mental health crisis this way:

“I kind of think of this as, this is a bad analogy perhaps, but McCleary Two,” he said.

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Joel’s Law allows families in Washington state to petition a court to involuntarily commit a mentally ill loved one. In Pierce County, home to Tacoma, nearly 100 percent of petitions are granted, but in Seattle’s King County, most are rejected.

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In the living room of her Olympia home, Crystal opens up a large file box that contains her son’s life history.

“As a mom you keep those shot records and those test scores in their little file even if they’re in their 20s,” said Crystal, whose last name we’re not using to protect her son's identity.

But this plastic box has something else: a detailed record of her son’s battle with addiction and mental illness beginning when he was 12.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

On a recent Wednesday morning, Denise Vermillion stood outside the Thurston County Courthouse and expressed the frustration that had been building inside her for days.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Efforts to turnaround Washington’s troubled Western State Hospital are taking longer than expected. The federal government this week granted yet another extension to give the state’s largest mental hospital more time to fix systemic problems.

Oregon Legislature

In a year when Oregon lawmakers are grappling with a $1.6 billion budget shortfall, even some legislative leaders are having trouble gaining traction for their priorities.

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Last year, gun violence shook communities in Marysville and on Whidbey Island, Washington. Some lawmakers in Olympia said it was the result of inadequate mental health resources.

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wants to make sweeping changes to the state’s mental health system. The Democrat Wednesday proposed a six-year plan to downsize the state’s two mental hospitals.

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Washington’s troubled Western State Hospital has been plagued by ineffective management, staff reductions and turnover. That’s according to a “root cause analysis” report released Thursday.

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In 2015 a federal judge in Seattle ruled that the state of Washington was violating the constitutional rights of mentally ill jail inmates by not evaluating and treating them quickly enough so they could stand trial. The day before that ruling Evon Bercier's 32-year-old son Shawn was locked up in the Spokane County Jail.

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The state of Washington has struck a deal with the feds to keep Western State Hospital open and funded. The Department of Social and Health Services announced late Thursday that it will negotiate a Systems Improvement Agreement with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

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It’s a new year, but the saga continues. The state of Washington has missed a deadline to provide competency services to jail inmates within seven days. And in some cases wait times are getting worse not better.

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Washington is unlikely to meet a January deadline to provide jail inmates with court-ordered mental health services within seven days.

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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.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Washington’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island is home to 252 sex offenders. These are men -- and one woman -- who’ve completed their prison sentences but are deemed too dangerous to release.

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Disability Rights Washington announced Thursday that it will delay the filing of a lawsuit against the state of Washington on behalf of mentally disabled sex offenders on McNeil Island at the request of the state.

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Mentally disabled sex offenders housed on Washington’s McNeil Island aren’t getting the treatment they deserve. And, in some cases, they’re being held in isolation.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

Brian Phillips spent 71 days in solitary confinement this summer. He was locked up in the Thurston County Jail near Olympia, Washington, after he went off his psychiatric medication and had several run-ins with police.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

A federal judge in Seattle has made it clear to the state that mentally ill jail inmates need to be evaluated within seven days to see if they’re competent to stand trial.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The incident command for Washington’s biggest wildfire requested a mental health team to help people in Okanogan County. A national nonprofit called Green Cross has responded to the call.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

The state of Washington is on a hiring spree for forensic psychologists. They’re needed to help address a backlog of mentally ill jail inmates whose competency to stand trial is in question.

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