New CEO named at Western State Hospital

Release Date: 
Apr 11 2016
DSHS Office of Communications
Kathy Spears
(360) 902-7893

OLYMPIA – The state Department of Social and Health Services announced a change in top leadership at Western State Hospital today with the appointment of Cheryl Strange as the new Chief Executive Officer.

Strange is an expert in mental health and health care issues and begins her new duties on April 25th.  She was assistant director for the DSHS Mental Health Division from 2006 to 2008.

“The ongoing issues at Western have justifiably eroded public confidence – and my confidence – regarding the management of this troubled hospital,” said Gov. Jay Inslee. “Though legislators and I have been working to address the severe staffing shortage at the hospital and restore funding that was cut deeply during the recession, it is clear that a transformative cultural change is needed. There is a lot of skill, ability and compassion at the hospital to build from and they need a leader to help bring people together to move this hospital forward. Cheryl has worked in mental health for more than 30 years and understands the changes needed to effectively manage the day-to-day operations of the hospital, but just as importantly, she understands the intense need for a change agent who can restore trust and cooperation between hospital staff and hospital leadership.”

“Swifter action is needed to fix what is under our control at the hospital and to move forward,” said Pat Lashway, Secretary of DSHS. “I trust that Cheryl can set the stage for badly needed change in the entire culture at Western State.

“We all understand that the past several months have been extremely difficult, and that hospital   staff continue to diligently lead the effort to create a safe and therapeutic environment while meeting the standards set by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The concerns raised by CMS, the escape of two patients through a window at the hospital and the walk away of two other patients clearly show the need for better public, staff and safety measures. This step will provide leadership for a significant shift in the culture at the hospital,” Lashway said.

Strange was the assistant director for the DSHS Mental Health Division, where she managed the state public mental health system, including three state hospitals, including WSH, and community outpatient mental health services. She managed a staff of 2,000 and oversaw a $900 million annual budget. She was responsible for compliance with the home and community-based services federal waiver, and successful accreditation by the Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Strange was vice president of the Behavioral Health Division, Pioneer Human Services, where she had executive oversight of 23 privately operated mental health hospitals. She also served as assistant secretary for Health Services and as deputy secretary at the state Department of Corrections. 

She is leaving her position as senior director of the Health Benefits Trust, SEIU 775 Benefits Group, to rejoin DSHS. She was responsible for administering $180 million in trust funds for 45,000 unionized home care aids in Washington and Montana.  

 “It is time for a change in leadership to create an open and transparent learning environment,” said Carla Reyes, assistant secretary for the DSHS, Behavioral Health Administration. “I look forward to Cheryl’s expertise to help build that environment and to keep Western a safe and high-quality hospital,”

Strange holds a B.A. from The Evergreen State College and a Master’s in Public Administration from Seattle University.

She has received certification in management and leadership from the University of Washington School of Social Work.

More information on how patients earn privileges at WSH.


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