Ever since the state Supreme Court last summer ruled it unconstitutional, state officials have sprinted to end the warehousing of psychiatric patients in hospitals and other facilities. In the past, the practice, known as psychiatric boarding, has lead to patients being strapped to hospital gurneys, sometimes for weeks and without medication.
Now, three lawmakers are proposing to bring back boarding to make sure dangerous psychiatric patients aren’t being set free when no proper psychiatric beds are available for them.
SB 5644 is sponsored by Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup and Sen. Jeanne Darnielle, D-Tacoma. The bill is scheduled for a public hearing on Tuesday in the Senate Human Services and Mental Health and Housing Committee.
“Neither the state’s interest in timely or appropriate treatment nor its interest in public health and safety are advanced by an inflexible ban on detention,” reads the bill. “Detention while boarding may prevent serious harm from occurring by providing for a person’s immediate health and safety needs, despite the delay in providing recovery-oriented treatment.”
The bill would amend the current law to allow hospital beds to be certified as short-term psychiatric evaluation beds. Medical facilities would have to make a report to the state detailing which psychiatric facilities had rejected the patient due to a lack of capacity. The patient would have to be examined by a mental health professional within three hours of being detained and a physician within 24 hours, according to the bill.
Under the bill, the state would have to provide quarterly reports, available online, of how many patients were boarded in each county every month.
The proposal comes as lawmakers have been promising to expand funding for mental-health programs and beds. Lawmakers are also pursuing a bill, Joel’s Law, that could increase psychiatric detentions.
Joel’s Law, or HB 1258, would let family members petition a judge to overrule any mental-health professional who would not involuntarily commit a relative that the family believes to be suicidal or a danger to others. A fiscal analysis of Joel’s law assumed the state could detain an additional 200 to 500 psychiatric patients per year.