- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SEATTLE (AP) - A bipartisan legislative committee has sent a list of recommendations to the governor for improving Washington state’s struggling mental health care system.

The eight-member Select Committee on Quality in State Hospitals told Gov. Jay Inslee in a letter sent Friday that the state needs to do more to ensure patients get the help they need. The group also said their primary force was to improve the situation at the beleaguered Western State Hospital - the state’s largest psychiatric facility.

Committee co-chair Sen. Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said the state has increased funding over the past few years, but the hospital continues to fail inspections. Staffing levels have suffered and patient safety has been compromised.

The 800-bed Lakewood hospital is under scrutiny by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after repeated safety violations. The state is working under a detailed agreement with federal regulators to fix safety problems or lose millions of federal dollars.

“Adequate funding is essential but even more important are meaningful reforms,” Becker said.

After hearing from experts and studying the data, the panel has determined that more needs to be done to improve the availability of mental health services for Washington families, friends and neighbors, said Committee co-chair Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma.

“Care in our state mental hospitals has been negatively impacted by staff shortages, lack of community-based services and outmoded mental health practices,” she said.

The panel is urging Inslee to increase the use of inpatient psychiatric care in community settings and explore diversion options.

The panel also believes the state should prioritize space at state hospitals for forensic rather than civil commitments.

The committee was established in 2016 in an effort to fix safety and capacity issues at the two state-run psychiatric hospitals. State budget cuts in previous years contributed to many of these issues, but Washington’s model of utilizing large psychiatric hospitals for long-term inpatient mental health treatment is also an outdated one.

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