Officials with the Washington State Department of Health have announced a new CEO, who will take over operations at the Western State Hospital in Lakewood WA.  Most recently the facility has come under scrutiny after two inmates escaped last week through a window, one of them considered a dangerous person who had committed a grisly murder in 2014. Anthony Garver had been found incompetent to stand trial after the murder, and was committed.

The former assistant director for the DSHS Mental Health Division, Cheryl Strange, will take over immediately. An expert in mental health issues, Strange will begin to assess operations and procedures at the facility.

Western State Hospital has come under scrutiny for alleged safety violations, and assaults on staff by patients have accounted for millions of dollars in lost days of work and medical costs.

The legislative Accountability and Reform Committee in January said the facility suffered from an inability to hire enough staff, while hospital employees say their job has been made more difficult because the legislature has cut funding over the years.

Due to inspections and discovered violations and issues, the facility was in danger of losing valuable federal funding. Legislators pressed home earlier this year a need for increased accountability and more quality assurance. In January, the legislature said it was alarmed that despite a state law requiring a Quality Assurance Team, the facility did not have one.  That law has been in place since 2005.

Perhaps accelerating the "cleanup" process at the hospital was the escape of the two patients last week, including Garver, who was captured outside of Spokane near East Valley. Garver managed to escape through a window, got on a Pierce County public transit bus, made it to the Greyhound station in Seattle. He then bought at ticket and traveled to East Valley to see his parents.  They called police and the manhunt was on.

But this escape just highlighted ongoing issues at the facility, which officials hope Strange will be able to help correct. Part of the problems facing the facility are being felt statewide, as many legislators are grappling with how to increase mental health services, while also meeting the other budget demands, including education via the McCleary Decision. That ruling alone demands a huge portion of the budget be spent on education, not always leaving enough for other necessary programs such as mental health.

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