Inslee’s failed leadership at Western State Hospital
December 8, 2022

Inslee’s failed leadership at Western State Hospital

A recent expose by The News (Tacoma) Tribune regarding Western State Hospital, the state’s largest mental hospital that is located in Lakewood, is not only perhaps one of the closest examples of the inmates literally running the asylum as you’ll ever get, but it’s also a vivid example of Governor Jay Inslee’s failed leadership on a critical issue affecting the state.  

The story is effectively on par with Gotham’s Arkham Asylum appointing the Joker to head up patient therapy.

It includes:

  • State officials appointed by the Governor hiring a convicted felon as an institutional counselor
  • Hiring the convicted felon just a few days after he got out of jail
  • The felon having 22 prior felony convictions for “theft, forgery, identity theft and drug possession.”
  • The convicted felon committing five more felonies while employed, including drug dealing, and still keeping his job
  • The convicted felon stealing money from mental health patients 117 times – and not getting charged
  • The convicted felon never getting fired from Western State Hospital; and in fact he was promoted and received three pay raises…

Western State has more than 800 beds and 2,500 employees and is managed by Inslee’s State Department of Social and Health Services. The hospital is run by Charles Southerland, who was appointed last year by DSHS, which is led by Inslee appointee Jilma Meneses.

According to The News Tribune:

Mark James, 62, worked for the state’s largest mental hospital for four years, starting in 2017. He was hired 13 days after he was booked into the Pierce County Jail on a fugitive warrant from Oregon, six days after he was booked into an Oregon jail on two charges of dealing heroin and other drug-related offenses. A week after the Oregon booking, on April 24, 2017, James received his official letter from the State of Washington, congratulating him on his hiring as an institutional counselor.

Does anyone wonder why we have such a crime problem in this state? Look no further. This is how criminal behavior is apparently rewarded. Even when this state employee continued to commit felonies while employed at the hospital, his direct supervisor told the court he was competent to continue working with them.

Contact Governor Jay Inslee or call him at 360-902-4111 and tell him how you feel about this scandal at Western State Hospital!

When they discovered he had stolen money from patients, Lakewood police investigated but declined to file charges. When the hospital went to retrain staff to prevent this kind of problem again, they found there had been no instance of ongoing employee theft apart from James, who later left for a job in Oregon.

As The News Tribune article explains, patients at Western State Hospital are in a vulnerable position, having been forcibly incarcerated due to mental illness. One of the reasons that James ostensibly got off the hook for the thefts is that the police lacked reliable testimony from patients. In other words, these people are in a profoundly defenseless position and there should have been strict protocols in place to ensure they are not taken advantage of in any way by staff.  

Imagine a loved one or relative is suffering from mental problems and has been incarcerated at Western State Hospital. Imagine hoping that they finally get the help they need, only to have employees there prey on them with no consequences. 

In total, this story is profoundly disturbing for many reasons.

One, there are many homeless people on the street right now that belong in a mental hospital, voluntarily or not, where they can receive treatment, care, and are kept safe from either themselves or others. Not only is the state’s number of mental hospital beds pitifully small, but the existing facilities like Western State Hospital have repeatedly shown they are not safe places for patients.

How is this compassionate in any way?

If we were to have an effective, safe system in place, much of the regional homelessness problem would not exist. It’s why despite spending billions of dollars on homelessness the situation hasn’t improved, because shelters and temporary housing doesn’t address the root cause. Had that money been invested in mental health facilities with competent staff to work there, there would be permanent housing for these people rather than public parks and trails acting as drug camps.

However, there’s another problem going on, and that is the failed leadership by the Governor and his DSHS in reforming Western State Hospital, where there have been problems for years. This was not the first time the hospital has suffered scandals. This latest one merely highlights that nothing has been done by the governor.

The situation is unacceptable. 

There’s absolutely no good reason for the state to have hired a convicted felon mere days after his release from jail. There’s absolutely no good reason for them to continue employing him once he was again convicted of felonies. There’s absolutely no good reason for him to remain employed after he was found stealing from patients – and even get promoted.

While there need to be more mental hospital beds, Inslee must implement reforms within the state agency and Western State Hospital to ensure this never happens again.

That includes:

  • Strong scrutiny of any potential employee’s background (no felony convictions).
  • Termination of employment for any felony convictions.
  • Protocols in place to ensure that no person whose testimony would be deemed “unreliable” in a courtroom is ever left alone with just one staff member.

This is a time of crisis, and as such solid leadership is needed more than ever. But the reality is if we don’t hold elected officials accountable no one will. 

Contact Governor Jay Inslee or call his office at 360-902-4111 and tell him how you feel about this scandal at Western State Hospital!

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