Monday, March 11, 2013

Making sure the mentally ill get the care they need

This afternoon, House Democrats made it clear that mental health care is a priority. The House of Representatives took action on several bills to ensure that the mentally ill get the attention they need.

Rep. Tami Green, a Lakewood lawmaker who doubles as a mental health nurse, introduced two of the measures.

Back in 2010, the Legislature OK’d new parameters for the involuntary commitment of people with pressing mental health issues. Often after a tragedy, we hear from family members or a close friend who admits that they could see the capacity for violence – just not when or where it would occur.

The new approach takes important input from family members and friends into consideration when making a decision to commit. It also allows decision makers to take a close look at a person’s history of mental health behavior.

However, budget constraints prevented the Legislature from funding the changes until 2015. House Bill 1777 speeds up the implementation of this involuntary treatment law – funding the reforms two years ahead of schedule.

HB 1522, another Green bill, builds a bridge between hospitals and the community for the mentally ill. It creates a step down from state hospitals – which will provide an important service to folks beginning to transition back into day-to-day life. This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the cost-effective approach as it is most expensive to treat these patients in a hospital setting. The bill will also free-up beds in our mental health hospitals, which are becoming more in demand every day.

The House also passed HB 1627 from Rep. Dawn Morrell – a critical care nurse at Good Samaritan Puyallup. The bill combats a mental health care crisis not only in Pierce County, but across the state.

The number of requests for competency evaluations for criminal defendants is sky-rocketing. In Pierce County, these requests have increased by 80 percent since 2001. Many of these defendants actually wait longer for an evaluation than the time they would’ve served if convicted.

Our county jails aren’t mental health care providers and, without the care they need, the mentally ill deteriorate rapidly in these settings. All too often, this mistreatment ends in tragedy. HB 1627 would give counties a critical tool to meet the growing demand for competency evaluations.

These improvements will go a long way towards keeping our communities safe and Washington families strong.

Read this story in Spanish.

Photo: Reps. Green and Morrell hard at work in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee