County to join lawsuit against State for refusal to provide necessary mental health treatment

Following repeated violations of court orders by the state, a coalition of counties and the Washington State Association of Counties (WSAC) filed a lawsuit in Pierce County Superior Court against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) over the department’s decision to stop providing initial evaluation and subsequent treatment for a rising number of patients in need of behavioral health support when exiting the criminal legal system.

Chelan County is among those counties joining in the lawsuit. The coalition, which was expected to grow, also includes Asotin, Cowlitz, Douglas, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Klickitat, Lewis, Lincoln, Pacific, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom, and Yakima counties. The counties have also filed a motion for preliminary injunction to compel DSHS’s immediate compliance with state law and court orders.

When a person with a serious mental health condition or cognitive disability has their charges dismissed because they are unable to understand the charges, DSHS is ordered by the court to evaluate that individual and if necessary, provide effective behavioral health treatment. This system, called a civil conversion commitment, focuses on people with severe behavioral health conditions who have not been adequately served by the crisis and outpatient behavioral health system.

Despite court orders and state laws requiring them to do so, DSHS has asserted that it is no longer obligated to either evaluate or treat patients whose criminal charges are dismissed, citing a federal judge’s orders in a separate case. To date, the agency has repeatedly argued that it will not follow what appear to be clear statutory and court ordered legal requirements, leaving hundreds of individuals across the state to lose their chance for mental health treatment that might break the cycle of re-offense.

Charges are dropped against individuals when they are determined to be not competent to stand trial and the state fails to provide restoration services or is unable to restore their competency. The individuals are then released back into the community without facing justice, nor receiving the treatment courts have ordered. When DSHS fails to provide restoration services, individuals are referred back to their home counties to designated crisis responders, placing the burden of care on counties despite state law requiring the state to do so. These releases further a harmful cycle where the state does not meet its responsibility of care and leaves individuals are left at risk to re-offend, repeating the legal process without any interruption for care and treatment.

In the Trueblood case, after failing to follow its legal obligations, DSHS was held in contempt and the federal court imposed a $100 million fine. DSHS now claims that its refusal to follow state law with conversion patients is the fault of the federal court. However, there is nothing in the court’s orders that interferes with DSHS’s obligation or ability to provide evaluations and restorative services.

While the state has made recent investments in this past legislative session, and recently purchased a former behavioral health hospital in Tukwila to address a shortage of capacity, the department has refused to provide the care ordered by courts and required by state law.

The request for preliminary injunction filed Wednesday asks the court to immediately order DSHS to comply with its obligations under state law. It creates a pathway for the court to make an immediate determination of the underlying legal issue, and to restore the civil conversion commitment process. 

The counties’ motion for preliminary injunction may be heard as early as Sept. 8 in Pierce County Superior Court. The case is known as Pierce County vs. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, and more information on the case is available here.

Last Updated: 10/04/2023 02:25 PM

Chelan County Calendar

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  • 10
    Jul 2024
    10:00 AM - 12:00 PM

    Chelan County Civil Service Commission

    Posted by: Human Resources

    The Chelan County Civil Service Commission will be meeting on July 10, 2024.

    Chelan County Commissioners Office, Conference Room 1
  • 03
    Jul 2024
    09:00 AM - 10:00 AM

    Hearing Examiner - July 03, 2024

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    Jun 2024
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    Planning Commission - June 26,2024

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    Jun 2024
    07:00 PM - 08:00 PM

    Assessor's Office Community Meeting: Chelan and Manson

    Posted by: Chelan County Assessor

    Chelan County Assessor Wes Cornelius invites property owners and all interested parties to attend one of four community meetings scheduled this spring throughout the county.

    Chelan City Hall
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    Jun 2024
    10:00 AM - 11:00 AM

    Public Meeting: Official Logic and Accuracy Test of Voting System and Accessible Voting Unit (AVU) Demonstration

    Posted by: Chelan County Elections

    Chelan County Auditor’s Office