Section II: What a patient can do when rights are taken away

The first section of this booklet has information about individual patient rights. This section will discuss what a patient can do to regain a right that has been limited or taken away. This may include filing a complaint with the hospital about treatment, contacting an attorney, and reporting a rights violation to additional agencies and organizations.

1. Talk to the treatment team

As discussed in Section I above, a patient has the right to be a part of his or her treatment team and to discuss treatment plans and decisions with professionals.  This right includes a patient’s ability to discuss the treatment team’s decision to restrict a right. The treatment team should explain why the right was taken away and predict when and how the right may be restored. The team may decide that the right should not have been taken away at all.

2. File an official written complaint with the hospital

A patient can raise concerns about his or her treatment to hospital staff. Patients cannot be punished for making a complaint about their care. For issues related to hospital rights and medical treatment, a patient can make an official complaint through the hospital’s internal complaint process.  A patient should receive information about the hospital’s complaint process when first admitted. During a hospital stay, a patient also can ask staff or treatment team members about the hospital’s complaint process.

A patient who wants to file a complaint can ask for help from another person, including hospital staff, a family member, significant other, or friend. A patient, or another person on the patient’s behalf, can place the completed form in the collection box on the ward. A completed form can also be mailed to one of the following addresses:

Patients at WSH:

Western State Hospital
Attn: Consumer Affairs/Complaint Review
9601 Steilacoom Blvd SW
Lakewood, WA 98498

Note: Patients at WSH must make a complaint within 60 days of the event that the patient wishes to complain about.

Patients at ESH:

Eastern State Hospital
Attn: Complaint Review Team
Quality Management Department
PO Box 800
Medical Lake, WA  99022 

Once a patient has filed a complaint, the receiving staff person has seven days to review the complaint and respond to the patient in writing. The response should explain who investigated the complaint, what staff did to investigate it, and what conclusions were reached. It should also include the contact information for the relevant state authority where the patient may send a future complaint about the same issue. 

After receiving a response, a patient may appeal the hospital’s conclusion about the complaint to the next level of review, to the appropriate state agency, the hospital CEO, and/or the Patient Advocate/Director of Consumer Affairs.

Tips for making effective complaints:

  • Make a complaint as soon as possible after the event.
  • Put the complaint in writing and keep a copy of it.
  • Focus on one issue for each complaint.
  • Briefly talk about the who, what, when, where and why of the situation.
  • Describe what you would like to see happen.
  • Note what steps you have taken to try to bring about the change that you want.

3. File a complaint with the hospital’s patient advocate or abuse hotline

Patients with concerns about their treatment at the hospital can also speak to the patient advocate at the hospital. A patient can write a complaint to the hospital’s patient advocate by addressing a letter to them and placing it in the complaint box. A patient can also contact the advocate at the number listed below.

WSH:  Consumer Advocate
9601 Steilacoom Boulevard SW
Lakewood, WA 98498

Phone: (253) 879-7996

ESH: Patient Advocate
PO Box 800
Medical Lake, WA 99022

Phone: (509) 565-4520

Patients at WSH can also call the WSH Abuse/Neglect Hotline at (253) 761-7599 to report abuse or neglect in the hospital.

4. Write to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

A patient can write a letter to the Chief Executive Officer of WSH or ESH. The contact information for each CEO is:

Chief Executive Officer
Western State Hospital
9601 Steilacoom Blvd SW
Lakewood, WA  98498

Chief Executive Officer
Eastern State Hospital
PO Box 800
Medical Lake, WA 99022

For more information about filing complaints against a hospital or medical provider, see DRW’s publication “How to File a Complaint Against a Health Care Provider or Facility.”

5. Contact an attorney

Many legal services agencies provide direct legal assistance and advocacy to people in state hospitals.  If a patient already has an assigned attorney, the patient may contact him or her about concerns regarding treatment at the hospital. If a patient does not have an attorney, the following agencies may still be able to provide assistance:

(a) Northwest Justice Project (NJP)

NJP provides a variety of civil legal services to individual patients at WSH, including advocacy for patient rights. If a patient has concerns about the treatment or care at Western, he or she can call or write NJP at: 

Northwest Justice Project (NJP) – WSH
Western State Hospital
Building 2
9601 Steilacoom Blvd SW
Lakewood, WA  98498

Phone: 1 (866) 280-4095

(b) Mr. Steve Wee

Steve Wee is a private attorney who has a contract to provide a variety of civil legal services and assistance to patients at ESH, including advocacy relating to patient rights. Patients at ESH may contact Mr. Wee at:

505 N Argonne Rd, Ste A201
Spokane Valley, WA  99212

Phone: (509) 315-8087

(c) CLEAR

CLEAR is Washington’s centralized intake, advice and referral service for low-income people seeking free civil legal assistance (legal help that is not related to criminal proceedings or forensic problems).

Patients at both ESH and WSH can call CLEAR on weekdays from 9:10 a.m. until 12:25 p.m. at: 1 (888) 201-1014. Patients aged 60 and over may call CLEAR*Sr. at: 1 (888) 387-7111. 

(d) Department of Assigned Counsel

Civil patients at WSH with questions about their commitment can contact the Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC), Mental Health Advocacy Unit. The DAC is a county public defense office providing advocacy to clients facing civil commitment. The office provides advice and representation on writs of habeas corpus, conditional release and final discharge issues. WSH patients can also contact the office with concerns about patient abuse and hospital conditions. The contact information for DAC is:

Department of Assigned Council (DAC)
9601 Steilacoom Blvd. SW
Lakewood, WA 98498

Phone: (253) 756-2674

Civil patients at ESH with questions about their commitment, conditional release, or discharge should contact the Spokane County Public Defender.

Spokane County Public Defender
1116 West Broadway Avenue
Spokane, WA 99260

Phone:  (509) 477-4246

Forensic patients should have an assigned attorney or private counsel. If a forensic patient’s rights have been violated or unfairly limited, he or she should contact counsel.

6. Contact other legal or oversight agencies 

The following is a list of additional organizations that are available to patients who have concerns about their treatment or placement in a hospital, or who have other legal issues that they would like to discuss. 

(a) Disability Rights Washington (DRW)

DRW is a private non-profit organization that protects the rights of people with disabilities statewide. DRW’s mission is to advance the dignity, equality, and self-determination of people with disabilities. DRW provides free advocacy services to people with disabilities. Calls to DRW may be anonymous and DRW must not disclose confidential or protected patient information without consent. Contact DRW for:

  • Disability rights information and referrals
  • Problem solving strategies for disability issues
  • Community education and training
  • Legal services for disability discrimination or violation of rights
  • Any complaints or concerns a patient may have about his or her rights and treatment

Patients at both WSH and ESH can contact DRW at:

Disability Rights Washington (DRW) 
315 5th Avenue South, Ste. 850
Seattle, WA  98104

Telephone: (206) 324-1521 or (800) 562-2702
Website: www.disabilityrightswa.org

(b) U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

A patient may complain to OCR about (1) discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, age, sex, or religion; or (2) violation of the HIPAA Privacy Rule, HIPAA Security Rule, or the confidentiality provisions of the Patient Safety Rule.

A patient must file a written complaint with OCR within 180 days of the alleged violation. A complaint should include identification of the staff involved and a description of the acts that a patient believes violated his or her rights. OCR has a special complaint form that patients or their representative may obtain by contacting OCR. Both ESH and WSH patients may contact the OCR Regional Manager at:

Regional Manager
Office for Civil Rights
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
2201 Sixth Avenue - M/S: RX-11
Seattle, WA 98121-1831

Phone (800) 368-1019
FAX (206) 615-2297
TDD (800) 537-7697

For more information, see DRW’s publication “How to File a Complaint Against a Health Care Provider or Facility.”

(c) U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

Unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities is discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Also, under the ADA, individuals must be treated in the most integrated setting available to meet their needs. This means that community-based services must be offered to people with disabilities when: (1) treatment professionals determine that such services are appropriate; (2) the affected person does not oppose community-based treatment; and (3) community-based services can be reasonably accommodated, taking into account the resources available and the needs of others who are receiving services.

If a patient feels that the hospital is violating his or her right to receive reasonable community-based supports, he or she can contact the DOJ and request an ADA complaint form.

U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Civil Rights Division
Disability Rights Section – 1425 NYAV
Washington, D.C. 20530

Fax: (202) 307-1197
Phone: (800) 514-0301
TTY: (800) 514-0383 

(d) The Joint Commission

A person with a complaint about safety and the quality of services at WSH or ESH may file a complaint with The Joint Commission. A person can file a complaint by writing a letter summarizing the issue in two pages or less and including the name and address of the hospital. A complaint can be mailed to:

Office of Quality Monitoring
The Joint Commission
One Renaissance Boulevard
Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois 60181

For questions regarding filing a complaint with The Joint Commission, call 800-994-6610.  For more information, see DRW’s publication “How to File a Complaint Against a Health Care Provider or Facility.”


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