Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with Representative Joe Schmick (R – Colfax), in which he discussed the recent federal court decision to fine the Inslee Administration $100 million for not providing legally required “competency treatment” for suspected criminals before they stand trial. In the “Trueblood” court case, U.S. Federal Judge Marsha J. Pechman fined the state for failing to provide restoration mental health treatment to local prisoners within the required 21 days. Average wait times have been 130 days before they are admitted into the state’s mental health system. This has resulted in overcrowding in local jails and hundreds of millions in local court fines.
This court decision is the latest setback for the Inslee Administration’s mental health policies. The Discovery Institute’s Bruce Chapmen recently asserted that under Governor Inslee the state has “a dismal record” in helping those with mental health issues. Previous problems include the federal government decertification of Western State Hospital (thus costing the state millions in annual funding) due to administrative failures. Federal officials have also expressed similar concerns about the management of Eastern State Hospital located in Medical Lake. Hospital staff members have won significant financial court settlements due to administrators failing to provide safe working conditions. During COVID, the state failed to follow its own safety guidelines resulting numerous outbreaks infecting many patients and staff members. And last November it was revealed that the state hired a felon with 22 convictions to work as a counselor (paying him $118,000), and he is now the prime suspect in the theft of patients’ possessions and money.
In the interview, Representative Schmick shared his thoughts on the federal court’s decision and the failure of the Democrats to make it a priority to help those in the state’s mental illness system.
On July 7, a federal court ruled that the Inslee administration had failed in its legal obligation to provide “competency treatment” to suspected criminals who are awaiting trial in local jails. The judge then fined the state’s taxpayers $100 million, which is believed to be one of the largest court fines ever issued against the state. What are your thoughts on the judge’s decision and large fine?
Judge Pechman is laser-focused on the class of plaintiffs before her, which is why she has imposed aggressive competency treatment timelines for these specific individuals. But the Legislature doesn’t have the luxury of focusing all of its resources to one group of individuals; the Legislature has to consider everyone involved in the mental health system and consider the safety of the public.
The reason the state has not met the court-ordered timelines for the Trueblood plaintiffs is because those beds are being used by civil patients with very real needs. While I can appreciate Judge Pechman’s advocacy for the individuals before her, the Legislature cannot – and should not – approach this issue through the same lens.
As to the $100 million fine, it is certainly a shocking number and funding was not set aside in the budget for this. Judge Pechman has not directly indicated how she will direct these fines to be paid and it is possible that a payment plan could be included in the settlement agreement. Either way, this is something that will have to be addressed in the next supplemental budget.
In media reports on the decision, both Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson refused to comment on the judge’s ruling. Given the significant impact of this decision, is silence from our political leaders an appropriate response?
Clearly this issue has not been a priority for the current administration which oversaw the federal decertification of our state’s largest mental health hospital and the loss of millions in federal funding. Considering the circumstances, I’m not surprised Governor Inslee and Attorney General Ferguson would want to distance themselves from the Trueblood case and the $100 million fine, which will of course ultimately be borne by state taxpayers.
This issue is not a surprise to state officials because many local courts have been fining the Department of Social and Health Services for the past couple of years for its failures to provide this required treatment. Several local courts have been forced to release suspected criminals from jails. Has there been any action from the Democrats who control the Legislature to force the administration to perform its legal obligations?
It is clear the state has to do more in this arena, to improve mental health services for everyone in the mental health system. The Legislature has been working hard to expedite timelines and to increase bed capacity. The most recent budget even included $10 million specifically for DSHS to pursue immediate strategies to create forensic bed capacity for Trueblood class members.
But despite our best efforts, there have been a lot of challenges. We tried to expedite the opening of additional treatment facilities, like Maple Lane, but were denied the required permits. Significant capital investments have been delayed due to worker strikes and material shortages. And, of course, there are incredible workforce challenges. While there have been proposals to develop that workforce, those have not been successful.
Since Governor Inslee has been in office, the state’s mental health services have faced multiple setbacks, including the federal government decertifying Western State Hospital and threatening to do the same to Eastern State Hospital. There have also been several lawsuits filed by staff members due to unsafe working conditions. Why are the state’s mental health programs in such a terrible condition?
It is a problem of leadership, or a lack thereof, and the state’s mental health system has simply not been a priority under Governor Inslee and a Democratic majority. It took years of chronic underfunding of our facilities and personnel to get to the place we are in. The decertification of Western State Hospital was the defining failure of the Inslee administration, and it is going to take a long time to fully recover.
It could be years before the hospital is recertified, if ever. In the meantime, staff at both hospitals have told us that they feel unsafe – so we need to continue making investments and policy changes that ensure safe and effective working conditions.
For additional information on Representative Schmick, or to contact his office, please visit his official website.