Patients, State settle lawsuit and improve patient treatment

Release date: 
Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Patients and State settle lawsuit and improve treatment of patients

Andrew Biviano, Paukert & Troppmann PLLC, (509) 232-7760
Emily Cooper, Disability Rights Washington (206) 324-1521 x214
Kathy Spears, DSHS Office of Communications, (360) 902-7893, [email protected]

SPOKANE – A settlement agreement has been reached that will lead to important reforms for
patients found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) and sent to the state hospitals for

“This settlement should provide significant benefits to both patients and staff at our state
psychiatric hospitals,” said Andrew Biviano of Paukert & Troppmann, PLLC in Spokane, one of
the lead attorneys in this lawsuit.

“It appropriately allows professional clinicians to make decisions regarding patient care with
fewer bureaucratic obstacles. This should help patients recover faster and more fully. This
should, in turn, help patients move out of the hospitals more quickly and make precious bed
space available to treat acute patients waiting for care,” he said.

This agreement was reached after a lawsuit was brought by six current and former patients at
Eastern State Hospital and Western State Hospital, as well as Disability Rights Washington
(DRW), against the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in August 2014.

The trouble began when patient treatment and release planning dramatically changed after an
NGRI patient walked away from the state fair in Spokane. Although the patient was returned to
the hospital without incident, a series of new state laws and policies restricted access to
therapy and superseded the opinions of patients’ treating clinicians. Plaintiffs alleged this
deprived patients of constitutional rights to adequate mental health treatment and the least
restricted treatment available.

As a result of the law and policy changes, for example, NGRI patients were no longer allowed to
take a walk on hospital grounds, even if accompanied by staff and even if doctors prescribed
this for treatment and recovery. Under this agreement the grounds privileges process at the
two state psychiatric hospitals will be improved and streamlined in a manner that respects
current law, accreditation standards, patient rights, and public safety concerns.

For decades prior to the lawsuit, patients received treatment that gradually reintegrated them
into the community as they recovered through supervised trips to visit family or to a store.
According to state hospital data, this careful and deliberate release planning resulted in a rate
of recommitment of less than 1% --showing both patient recovery and public safety are

“I, and so many others like me, spent years in the hospital after we had fully recovered and
were ready to go,” said plaintiff Ketema Ross. “We need to go back to when our doctors – not
an outside panel of lawyers or politicians -- made treatment decisions.”

“We have confidence that this agreement will balance the treatment needs of our patients and
the public safety needs of the community,” said Carla Reyes, Assistant Secretary for DSHS’
Behavioral Health Administration. “We look forward to continuing to improve our discharge
and treatment processes for the patients we serve.”

While the court retains the authority to determine when NGRI patients should be released or
have unsupervised access to the community, the settlement provides for a more streamlined
treatment and risk assessment process. Settlement provisions also address appropriate use of
personal restraint devices, patients’ personal property, strip search policies, and retaliation.

As both a former mental health case manager and federal prosecutor, Biviano states that he
knows firsthand that appropriate mental health care is critical to both patient recovery and
public safety. The patients are also represented by attorneys from Disability Rights Washington
(DRW), the federally mandated protection and advocacy agency designated by the governor to
protect the rights of people with disabilities across the state. In addition to co-counseling with
Biviano to provide legal representation to the named plaintiffs in this lawsuit, DRW has joined
as an organizational plaintiff in the case in order to ensure the court considers the needs of all
patients facing these conditions.


Additional Sources: 

Ketema Ross and Jesus Martinez, plaintiffs and former Eastern State Hospital patients, coordinated by Andrew Biviano 509-232-7760

Related links: 

PDF of Press Release, Patients and State settle lawsuit and improve treatment of patients

Sanka Party reforms state hospital from the inside out, DRW news article from 2013

The Inlander:  Patients and Prisoners