State hospitals fulfills mission to improve policies and practices to benefit patient treatment

Release Date: 
Aug 08 2019
DSHS Office of Communications
Kelly Von Holtz (Stowe)
kelly.stowe@dshs.wa.gov
360-902-7739

OLYMPIA-A U.S. Federal Court has dismissed the Ross, et al. v. Lashway et al case after the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) demonstrated it has greatly improved policies and allowing patients found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) a better chance of success once they are approved to leave either of the state’s two adult, psychiatric hospitals.

Plaintiffs’ attorney, Andrew Biviano, stated, “This is a great success story that is a win for patients, hospital staff, and the people of Washington. Patients have a better quality of life, increased dignity, and are able to return to their families more quickly. The hospitals have more tools to fulfill their mission of providing excellent patient care, and taxpayers benefit from the better expenditure of resources on people in acute need of intensive mental health services, rather than on hospitalizing people who do not need it. We should all commend and congratulate the plaintiffs and other patients who had the courage to stand up for their rights, as well the administrators, clinicians, and staff at DSHS for their sincere, sustained, and successful efforts that will benefit patients and the public for years to come.”

 “We are very pleased with the court’s recognition of our efforts here,” said Sean Murphy, Assistant Secretary for the DSHS Behavioral Health Administration “People can and do recover from mental illness. Learning how to once again live outside of the hospital walls is an important part of treatment. The changes that have been made at both Eastern and Western state hospitals will help ensure that patients, when they meet the requirements for release from a psychiatric hospital, have a greater chance at safely and successfully acclimating back into the community.”

 In 2014, a lawsuit was filed against DSHS on behalf of NGRI patients sent to Eastern and Western state hospitals. For decades prior to the lawsuit, patients received treatment that gradually reintegrated them into the community through supervised trips to visit family or go to the store as they recovered from their mental illnesses. According to hospital data, this careful and deliberate release planning provided the proper balance of patient recovery and public safety and resulted in streamlined releases of patients who no longer needed to stay at the hospital.

In 2010, a series of new state laws added restrictions to the release process for NGRI patients. The new laws generally required these patients to obtain a court order to leave the hospital, including for family visits or taking a walk off of hospital grounds, even if doctors recommended this for treatment and recovery. 

DSHS and plaintiffs in the case entered into a settlement agreement in 2016 after all parties agreed on a formula to improve the treatment and release process within the bounds of the new state laws. The state hospitals improved the individualized treatment plans and streamlined the grounds privilege and release process for patients; created a more uniform NGRI patient level system; allowed patients to have an opportunity to help develop their post-discharge conditions and made other improvements to help patients be successful once they were deemed well enough to return to the community.

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DSHS does not discriminate and provides equal access to its programs and services for all persons without regard to race, color, gender, religion, creed, marital status, national origin, sexual orientation, age, veteran’s status or the presence of any physical, sensory or mental disability.