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Fourth of Pierce County's psychiatric beds lost in closure

Treatment options just got more scarce for psychiatric patients in Pierce County, where a fourth of the beds used to help the mentally ill are no longer available. (Photo: KOMO News)

LAKEWOOD, Wa. - Treatment options just got more scarce for psychiatric patients in Pierce County, where a fourth of the beds used to help the mentally ill are no longer available.

There's already a crisis statewide over a lack of beds to treat the severely mentally ill. Now a provider called Telecare has been forced to clear out of Western State Hospital, where they’ve been operating the past seven years.


“The demand has been increasing,” said Faith Richie, senior vice president of development for Telecare, who then pointed out that psychiatric patients are already “having to wait in emergency rooms for long periods of time.”

However, emergency rooms aren't equipped to meet the long-term needs of the mentally ill.

Telecare offered 16 beds in a building at Western State Hospital. Now the state needs that space back to comply with a court order that it expand mental health evaluations of people accused of crimes.


Telecare treats about 500 patients every year at the site. Without the beds, those patients could end up on waiting list with treatment programs already at capacity.

Richie said Telecare is now retraining staff to work with patients in the field and hopefully lessen the need for psychiatric hospitals.


“Our goal is to reduce the need for beds,” she said. “That's the design of the program, so we think it's pretty innovative and we're doing the best we can, given the situation."

Telecare is in the process of building a new acute care facility in Milton but that site won't be ready to help patients for at least a year.


Until a permanent location is available, an agency called Optum is trying to cut deals with other local providers to replace those beds that are lost.

Optum issued a statement that said, in part, "we're working closely with our network providers and other partners...to ensure our clients continue to have access to appropriate care in the right treatment setting."

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