Inslee Releases Mental Health Spending Proposal

"Government Spending" on top of a stack of cash money

by Andy Jones
January 19, 2017

Governor Jay Inslee’s proposed 2017-19 budget, released December 14, seeks a $300 million boost for mental health services amid a shift toward making such services community based.

Underscoring the proposal is a marked shift away from the state’s traditional reliance on Western and Eastern State Hospitals, the state’s two psychiatric hospitals. Under the proposal, these hospitals would only serve forensic (court-ordered) individuals and particular dangerous patients, while most other civilly committed patients would be provided for in less institutional settings.

To facilitate these changes, nine new 16-bed community behavioral health hospitals will be built over the next six years. Western State Hospital - which like Eastern State Hospital has traditionally had below average staff-to-patient ratios - would hire 137 new positions to better treat and transition patients out of the facility. Substance abuse disorders would see an increased emphasis.

“The Governor says his budget ‘transforms’ the mental health system,” said David Lord, public policy director with Disability Rights Washington. “It is certainly true that he is asking for major reform of our hospital system. But to transform the system we must reach the whole system – and that means more resources and effective treatment and services in the community.” 

Inslee also includes funding for expanding mobile crisis teams, walk-in centers, and supportive housing arrangements that will help divert people from jail. To provide better services in lieu of civil commitments, Inslee’s proposal would require insurers to integrate their coverage of physical and behavioral health care services by 2020.

“Governor Inslee’s mental health budget begins the process of transforming our community system by funding some programs that will divert people from jail and involuntary hospitalization,” according to Lord. “That is very good news,” Lord said. “But the Legislature will need to be convinced, and we still will need to find the money to pay for it.”

This past week, the Legislature held hearings on the Governor’s budget. The long process of creating the Washington State budget has begun. 

The four-page proposal can be read here [PDF].