Behavioral health transformation begins with significant investments

Gov. Jay Inslee signed four bills into law Thursday that will significantly transform the state’s mental health system and reshape how and where patients receive care. The bills will introduce more community-based facilities, establish a University of Washington behavioral health teaching hospital, make sure patients receive care closer to their support systems, and integrate to a more holistic model of behavioral health care for patients.

“We want the best for our patients,” Inslee said. “That means shorter wait times, the best care possible from leading experts, and appropriate facilities close to home so they can still access their own support system. These bills signal a dramatic and positive change in how we take care of people who suffer from mental illness.”

The bills continue the work that Inslee and the state legislature put into motion over the last two years. The plan also connects to the state’s opioid response.

The newly signed, governor-requested bills do the following:

Sen. Manka Dhingra, primary sponsor of the behavioral health integration bill, said the governor’s comprehensive plan will help reshape our behavioral healthcare system.

“Thanks to his leadership, and the investments laid out by the Legislature, we have ensured that our state is investing in a continuum of care that builds robust programs to meet people’s needs,” Dhingra said. “We can no longer be a crisis-focused state. It is time to build an infrastructure for early intervention and integration for complete healthcare.”

The behavioral health bill package was developed last year with input from Mothers of the Mentally Ill who met with the governor in the summer of 2018. Jerri Clark, a mother who lost her son to suicide less than two months ago, shared her son’s story during the governor’s December 2018 budget rollout for the behavioral health bills. Clark said a person with mental illness needs timely medical help before they enter crisis mode, and that the governor’s proposal will provide that help.

One of the bills addresses the issues brought up in the in the Trueblood v. Department of Social and Health Services case, in which a federal court found that it’s unconstitutional for a patient to experience delays in competency evaluation and restoration services. The case included five key areas of investments with a goal of keeping individuals with mental illness out of the criminal justice system: competency evaluations; competency restoration; crisis diversion and supports; education and training; and developing a more robust workforce in this field. Adding more community-based facilities can decrease the backlog that hospitals currently experience.

The teaching hospital will introduce scholarships, residences, and new educational opportunities to train the next generation of behavioral health workers. Experts from various schools within UW will develop a new academic curriculum for psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and medical assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses. This will also help address the shortage of behavioral health workers by investing in a larger network of care.

Rep. Laurie Jinkins said the 2019 session success in behavioral health laws will impact thousands of Washingtonians.

“We’ve begun a transformation of our state’s behavioral health system, moving away from outmoded practices and toward a 21st century system that keeps people safe and supports recovery,” Jinkins said. “I’m extremely pleased we’ve aligned our state’s operating and construction budgets to leverage the best possible care for Washingtonians who need it.”

Another bill allows community hospitals to do more psychiatric care. The bill also creates two new types of treatment facilities. One facility would act as a drop-in center for people in crisis and the other would act as a long-term facility for patients who don’t need a hospital level of care.

“A year ago I laid out my plan to transform our state’s behavioral health system, during the session we worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle to pass this comprehensive package of bills and budget allocations,” Inslee said. “This will make a tremendous difference for people, their families and communities.”

Washington State Governor's Office

News and updates from Washington state Gov.

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