Patient Rights Settlement Jeopardized by Legislation

Judge's gavel in foreground, scales of justice in background

by Andy Jones
February 13, 2017

Bills have been introduced in both chambers of the Washington State Legislature that would replace court oversight with the judgment of a board, the Public Safety Review Panel (PSRP). This change threatens to throw into jeopardy the settlement of a major patient rights lawsuit, “Ross v. Inslee”.

Under Washington State law, people found not guilty by reason of insanity - “NGRI”- in criminal proceedings are committed to either Western or Eastern State Hospital, if they pose a substantial public safety risk. Court approval is required before these individuals can be released. In 2010, the Washington Legislature created the seven-member PSRP, to provide courts with independent assessments of individuals recommended for a conditional, as opposed to a permanent, release by the state Department of Social and Health Services. This has been an advisory panel, with courts retaining the decision-making authority.
Senate Bill 5278 would allow the PSRP to override court orders allowing conditional, as opposed to a permanent, release of NGRI patients. The bill provides that courts must send release orders to the PSRP within five days of a decision, and the PSRP could modify the conditions of the release or refer the case back to the court for further reconsideration.
Disability Rights Washington opposes the bill, on the basis that it would serve  as a “barrier to implementation to the Ross settlement,” Public Policy Director David Lord testified to the Senate Law and Justice Committee on January 25.

The “Ross settlement” is a legal agreement ending active litigation on the Ross v. Inslee lawsuit. DRW sued the state hospitals in May 2014, asserting that they are systematically violating the due process rights of patients due to inadequate treatment and release planning. The agreement sets forth a timeline for the hospitals to provide individualized treatment plans for patients, as well as to streamline release procedures to emphasize supervised releases over extended hospitalizations. “DRW sued the state because NGRI patients' constitutional rights were being violated, and they were stranded at the state hospitals long after clinicians approved release. The PSRP was a major barrier that contributed to DRW’s decision to sue,” according to Emily Cooper, lead counsel for the patients in their lawsuit. “There is no justification for expanding the PSRP's role, and this will throw the future of the settlement agreement into doubt.”

A companion bill, HB 1355, has been introduced in the House Judiciary Committee.

Go to the Washington State Legislature website to read the bill text and a bill summary of SB 5278, or to watch public testimony.
More background information is available on the DRW's Ross v. Inslee webpage.