Complying with the state Supreme Court’s recent ban on warehousing psychiatric patients in hospital emergency rooms will cost Washington’s already underfunded mental health system tens of millions of dollars, health administrators said Thursday morning.
The state has been scrambling to respond to the high court’s ruling for the past week, but so far has only been able to free up a fraction of the long-term beds that will be needed when the decision goes into effect Aug. 27, meaning potentially more than 100 severely mentally ill patients will be released that day without care, said Andi Smith, Gov. Jay Inslee’s policy advisor on health and human services.
“We simply don’t have the bed capacity to serve all of the people who need treatment,” said Smith. “It really is as simple as the demand is greater than the supply.”
The practice, often called psychiatric boarding, has become an increasingly common last resort for hospitals over the past five years as mental-health resources have dwindled. In extreme cases, patients are strapped to gurneys and forcibly medicated until a proper bed opens up.
The state will appeal to the Legislature next session for more funding to address the crisis, said Smith. In the meantime, the Department of Social and Health Services is attempting to move around resources and find more beds to address the immediate need.
A special legislative session isn’t off the table, said Smith. She emphasized the current situation is part of a larger mental-health funding problem in Washington.
It’s impossible to predict exactly how many patients will be released later this month, given more could be admitted or discharged in the next two weeks, said Smith. But as of July 31, hospitals around the state were boarding about 200 patients that would be affected by the court’s decision and the state has so far only been able to find 50 new beds.
“We will work as hard at implementation as we possibly can, but the problem will not be solved in day one,” said Smith.