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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 22, 2014
Governor, Attorney General lead legal response to Supreme Court psychiatric boarding decision

Inslee, Ferguson work with Department of Social and Health Services, healthcare organizations, hospitals and disability rights advocates on joint response

OLYMPIA— Today Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in conjunction with a broad coalition of organizations, filed a motion in the Washington State Supreme Court to address the impacts of the court’s recent decision on psychiatric boarding. The motion asks the court to delay the effect of its decision so that the state can implement Governor Jay Inslee’s plan to make sure alternative care is available.

A broad coalition of hospitals, healthcare organizations and disability rights groups joined today’s motion. All of these groups had earlier asked the court to end psychiatric boarding. They nonetheless joined this request to ensure that the practice can be ended in a responsible manner, through implementation of a plan developed by the state Department of Social and Health Services.  As the first step in that plan, Inslee today approved the immediate expenditure of $30 million for DSHS to purchase mental health services for some of the patients currently involuntarily detained.

The state respects the court’s ruling, but is aware that immediate implementation without alternatives in place could cause severe negative consequences. As a result the state, healthcare providers, hospitals and disability rights organizations are asking the court to delay the effective date of its ruling by 120 days to give the system time to adapt.   

“My office wants to ensure the state is able to implement the court’s decision in a way that protects vulnerable individuals, public safety and healthcare providers,” said Ferguson. “No one would benefit from the release of people in mental health crisis without treatment. We hope the court will see the broad consensus in support of this motion and grant it.”  

“I appreciate that so many parties have come together to agree on this plan,” Inslee said. “We are not challenging the Supreme Court ruling. We all want to implement the decision but we need to make sure patients receive the treatment they need and that the community is protected.”

Under state law, counties may detain individuals with “a mental disorder” for evaluation and treatment who are a threat to themselves or others. In recent years, counties have often relied on psychiatric boarding in hospital emergency rooms for such individuals because of a lack of space in certified evaluation and treatment facilities. On August 7, the Supreme Court held in the case In re Detention of D.W. that state law does not allow psychiatric boarding.

Under the court’s normal rules, its decision would become effective 20 days after being issued, i.e., on August 27.  As has been widely reported, ending psychiatric boarding so quickly could lead to serious problems for people in mental crisis, counties, hospitals and the general public.  Without sufficient certified-treatment facilities available, many people who present a threat to themselves or others will be released without treatment.

To avoid this result, the AGO, governor and the Department of Social and Health Services have worked closely with healthcare organizations, hospitals, and disability rights advocates to come up with an interim solution.  

In the motion filed today, the parties detail the plan they have developed, and ask the court to delay the effect of its ruling for 120 days to allow the plan to be put into place. The plan calls for the state to make available 145 additional certified evaluation and treatment beds over the next 120 days. Additionally, the governor and DSHS intend to work with legislative leaders to develop a longer-term solution.   

The motion, available here, is being filed on behalf of DSHS, Multi Care Health System, Franciscan Health System, the Washington State Hospital Association, Disability Rights Washington, the Washington State Medical Association, the ACLU of Washington, the National Alliance on Mental Illness Washington, the Washington Association of Public Hospital Districts, the NW Organization of Nurse Executives, the Washington Chapter of American College of Emergency Physicians, the Washington Council of Emergency Nurse Executives, Washington State Nurses Association and SEIU 1199NW (which represents nurses).

Here is the court's letter laying out next steps.

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Contact:

Alison Dempsey-Hall, AGO Acting Communications Director, (206) 442-4482, alisond@atg.wa.gov

David Postman, Governor Inslee’s Executive Director of Communications, (360) 902-0632, david.postman@gov.wa.gov

 

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