- Associated Press - Thursday, October 6, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state’s largest psychiatric hospital announced Thursday that it has revised its policies for notifying the police when a patient goes missing or escapes from the 800-bed facility.

The new policies follow last month’s release of a scathing report from a corrections team that reviewed Western State Hospital’s handling of the April escape of two violent patients. The team’s report, acquired by The Associated Press through a public records request, said hospital officials failed to put safety first, leaving the public at risk. The team also discovered 25,000 missing keys and thousands of missing tools used to open windows.

Hospital CEO Cheryl Strange said they’ve streamlined the process for notifying law enforcement when a patient goes missing. The new policy also provides clarity about the roles staff play when responding to escapes.

Police will now be told whether the missing patient was considered a high risk with no opportunity to leave the ward or is a lower risk with periodic grounds privileges. Based on this status, the missing patient will be defined as an “escape” or an “unauthorized leave.”

“I am confident that the work they did will result in a more efficient response from police and, more importantly, a safer environment both in the hospital and in the surrounding communities,” Lakewood Police Chief Michael Zaro said in a statement.

A patient who had been accused of torturing a woman to death and one charged with domestic violence escaped from the Lakewood hospital in April, sparking a statewide manhunt and an intensive review of the hospital’s security.

The team charged with assessing security found a long list of problems that ranged from failing to notify police in a timely fashion about the escape, to actions by staff that left patients and the public vulnerable.

Following the April escapes, AP reviewed police reports and found that law enforcement responded to 185 calls for patients had gone missing or escaped between 2013 and October 2015.

On Thursday, the hospital provided a more detailed count and said the numbers have gone down.

“Unauthorized patient walkaways at WSH have dropped dramatically from 181 in 2014 to 81 in 2015,” the hospital said in a statement. “March 2016 was the first month in years with no reported ‘unauthorized leave’ incidents. From May through September there were 16 unauthorized leaves, of which four were reported to law enforcement.”

Under the old policy, a nurse or other staff member would fill out a missing-patient form and answer yes or no on a box marked “Dangerous?” to let police know whether the public should be notified.

“We no longer use that form,” hospital spokeswoman Kathy Spears said.

The new policy requires staff to give police information on whether the patient was assaultive or threatening during the past 30 days. The police also conduct background checks to determine how dangerous the patient might be, she said.

Based on those sources of information, the police will decide whether to notify the public, she said.

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