Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Home page

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Western State Hospital?

Western State Hospital (WSH) is one of two psychiatric hospitals for adults operated by the state Department of Social and Health Services. The hospital provides evaluation and inpatient treatment for people with serious or long-term mental illness that have been referred through the Regional Support Network (RSN) system.

WSH is the regional state psychiatric hospital for 20 Western Washington counties for involuntary commitments under RCW 71.05. We serve the needs of people who have been committed as a result of a criminal proceeding.

We are a licensed and accredited hospital which complies with the requirements of The Joint Commission, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


Western State Hospital (WSH) is one of two psychiatric hospitals for adults operated by the state Department of Social and Health Services. The hospital provides evaluation and inpatient treatment for people with serious or long-term mental illness that have been referred through the Regional Support Network (RSN) system.

WSH is the regional state psychiatric hospital for 20 Western Washington counties for involuntary commitments under RCW 71.05. We serve the needs of people who have been committed as a result of a criminal proceeding.

We are a licensed and accredited hospital which complies with the requirements of The Joint Commission, and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

  • Occupational Therapy if provided by therapists to teach skills to improve daily living and work activities.  This helps people transition back to the community by learning how to get ready for work, drive to school, use a computer, or take care of a pet.
  • Recreational Therapy helps patients learn skills to enjoy leisure time activities.
  • Speech and Audiology Therapy provides help with speaking and hearing problems.

What is the history of Western State Hospital?

Western State Hospital is located on the site of historic Fort Steilacoom, which served as a military post from 1849 to 1868. The Washington territory purchased the fort and built a hospital, called the "Insane Asylum of Washington Territory."  It opened in 1871 with 15 men and 6 women who were transferred from Monticello, Washington.

The period between 1871 and 1875 was very difficult for the new hospital. A local businessman had contracted with the legislature to look after the daily needs of the patients. At the same time, a resident physician was hired to provide psychiatric treatment and medical care. Unfortunately, patients were neglected under this contractor and the Medical Society of the Washington Territory had to intervene. The Medical Society was instrumental in influencing the legislature to abandon the dual-management system and place total care of the patients with a medical superintendent.

After statehood in 1889 the name was changed to Western State Hospital. When the number of patients reached 200, a committee was selected to locate an accessible location for a second state hospital. Medical Lake in Eastern Washington was chosen as the site for Eastern State Hospital, as it was only eight miles from the main line of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and was on three stage routes.

As times changed for the new State of Washington, so did methods for treating the mentally ill admitted to Western State Hospital. Hydrotherapy was the early treatment of choice. Wet packs, hot tubs and showers were used for nearly 50 years to create a calming effect for patients. Insulin therapy was started in the mid 1930's, followed by electric shock therapy. A surgical procedure called the frontal lobotomy was used for a period of time. These practices were replaced with psychotropic drugs, counseling, and behavior modification therapies which are still used today.


Consumer Affairs Office

The Consumer Affairs Office provides services to patients at Western State Hospital to help them resolve conflict and complaints. The Office is an advocate for patients and serves as a teacher, resource person and bridge between patients and various agencies.  The Office does not provide legal services or counseling. The Consumer Affairs Office can be reached at (253) 761-7575 or toll-free at 1-800-558-4737.


Who is eligible for treatment at Western State Hospital?

Western State Hospital serves adults 18 and older who have been referred by the court for a civil or criminal commitment under RCW 71.05 or RCW 10.77.


How can someone be referred for treatment?

Within the hospital there are two systems of care: civil and forensic. Patients can enter the civil treatment units of the hospital through an involuntary civil commitment ordered by the court. All involuntary commitments must be authorized by a County Designated Mental Health Profession (CDMHP). According to state law, the initial detention period is 72 hours. For an involuntary civil commitment beyond 72 hours, a court order is required.

Admission to the forensic (legal) treatment units of Western State Hospital are through the criminal justice system.


What if I don't agree with a decision about receiving care at Western State Hospital?

You may call the Consumer Affairs Office that serves the patients at Western State Hospital. The telephone number is (253) 761-7575. The toll- free number is 1-800-558-4737.

You may request a fair hearing if you don't agree with the decision, but you must do so within the time frame shown in the decision letter.


How can I find out more about Western State Hospital?

Contact the hospital's Public Information Coordinator. The telephone number is (253) 582-8900.


What are patient rights?

During treatment at Western State Hospital, state and federal law protects patients to ensure they are given care, treatment and privileges that enhance their dignity, promote their welfare, and protect their civil rights. For a copy of the rights of patients, contact the Consumer Affairs Office.

When can I visit a patient in the hospital?

Visits and communication  with family members and significant others is encouraged as it plays and important role in treatment. Visiting hours may vary with each program, but generally are from 9 am -9 pm daily. Please contact your loved ones social worker to ask about any visiting restrictions that may apply individually to each patient.

How can I contact a patient in the hospital?

  • You can write a letter:
    • 9601 Steilacoom Blvd. S.W., Lakewood, WA 98498
    • Be sure to identify the correct ward and write the patients full name.
  • You can contact the patient's social worker, and request that the patient call you;
  • You can purchase phone cards for your friend or family member in the hospital, and ask them to call you from one of the pay telephones on the treatment units. These phones are for outgoing calls only.

Where is Western State Hospital located?

The hospital is located ten miles south of Tacoma, Washington and one-half mile from the town of Steilacoom. The street address and main telephone number are:

Western State Hospital
9601 Steilacoom Blvd. SW
Lakewood, Washington 98498-7213
(253) 582-8900

The hospital campus consists of 56 buildings on 264 acres of grounds. There is a small settler's cemetery on the main hospital grounds and a patient's cemetery across Steilacoom Blvd. near the site of the hospital's former dairy farm.


How can I find out who is buried in the patient cemetery?

Laws in the State of Washington protect the confidentiality of mental health patients even after they have died.

There are exceptions for patients who died over 50 years ago.

Exceptions may be made on a case by case basis for a next of kin with a written release of information. Requests should be made through the Medical Record Department (253) 582-8900.


What services are offered at Western State Hospital?

Clinical Services The Psychiatric Treatment and Recovery Center

The PTRC provides inpatient hospitalization for adults that are severely mentally ill and are committed for care by a civil court proceeding under RCW 71.05. Specialized programs within the PTRC include units which provide treatment for: older adults, acutely mentally ill adults, individuals with primary cognitive and dementia-related illnesses, and adults whose mental illness symptoms impede basic functioning and self-care.


Patients enter the forensic (legal) unit in the hospital through the criminal justice system. Evaluation and treatment services are provided for adults prior to their trial, after they are convicted, or after they are acquitted by reason of insanity. The Center also provides services to certain individuals under the mental health laws that require the security of a legal unit.