- Associated Press - Friday, June 3, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital has signed a detailed agreement with federal regulators to fix safety problems that threatened millions of federal dollars.

Gov. Jay Inslee and Western State Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange announced Friday the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services ended a termination notice that was to go into effect on Friday. Instead a Systems Improvement Agreement was signed to give the state more time to implement changes that will hopefully cut back on patient assaults, keep patients from escaping and make the hospital a safer place for patients and staff alike.

“This is by no means a free pass here,” Strange said at a news conference on the front steps of the 800-bed Lakewood hospital. Federal regulators can end the agreement at any time if the hospital is not progressing and making needed changes, she said.

Inslee said the agreement “will make sure this hospital is on track for the quality and excellent care that we require and expect for our citizens here at Western State Hospital.”

“There will be hiccups along the way, I’m sure. That’s how we learn what is effective and what isn’t, but today’s agreement with CMS helps affirm that the hospital is moving in the right direction,” he said.

The safety problems have been extensive and sometimes life-threatening.

Injured employees missed 41,301 days of work between 2010 and 2014, according to an investigation by The Associated Press. And workers’ compensation insurance paid $6 million in wage and medical costs for claims to injured hospital workers between 2013 and 2015, the AP found.

The hospital also has security problems.

Two dangerous men, including one charged with torturing a woman to death, escaped out a window on April 6. The AP found that 185 patients have gone missing - some walked away and some escaped - since 2013.

The federal agency issued four termination notices in 2015 and conducted three follow-up surveys this year and each time found additional “immediate jeopardy” violations, according to the agreement. The final deadline was Friday, but the agency said it decided that ending the hospital’s Medicare certification “would have a detrimental impact on the communities WSH servers as well as the Medicare program and its beneficiaries.”

Since the facility has pledged to correct the problems, the agency said it agreed to a detailed plan that began Friday with the arrival of independent consultants who will analyze the facility’s operations and identify gaps. The experts will provide recommendations and issue a report to the federal agency in 60 days.

The hospital must then work with the consultants to create a plan to correct the problems within a certain time period, according to the agreement.

Inslee said repeatedly on Friday that key to the hospital’s success will be adding more staff. The state has failed to pay a competitive wage and that has made it difficult to attract and retain workers.

“You can’t run this institution on the cheap and expect quality care,” he said. He pledged to increase salaries at the institution.

Nursing supervisor Paul Vilja said he was pleased that federal regulators will oversee the process.

“I am relieved that independent consultants will be reviewing and changing hospital operations and structure,” he said. Past recommendations for change were suppressed by officials with the Department of Social and Health Services, he said, but the official agreement will assure the necessary changes are adopted.

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Follow Martha Bellisle at https://twitter.com/marthabellisle


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