OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday fired the head of a beleaguered state psychiatric hospital after a man who had been charged with murder escaped from the facility last week.
The escape was the latest in a litany of problems at the 800-bed Western State Hospital, where violent assaults on both staff and patients have occurred.
“These incidents have justifiably eroded public confidence in the hospital,” Inslee said at a news conference. “It is clear that transformative cultural change is needed at this hospital.”
Inslee said he had relieved Western State Chief Executive Officer Ron Adler of his duties. Inslee said he would be replaced by Cheryl Strange, effective April 25. Strange had previously managed the state public mental health system.
Anthony Garver escaped last week from the facility in Lakewood, Washington, where he was being held after he was accused of torturing a 20-year-old woman to death. Garver and fellow patient Mark Alexander Adams escaped April 6 through a key-locked window. Adams was apprehended the next day. Garver travelled to Spokane, where he was caught by authorities Friday night.
Mark Alexander Adams, left, and Anthony Garver. Adams and Garver, described as dangerous, were able to escape from Western State Hospital.
U.S. regulators have repeatedly cited the facility over safety concerns and threatened to cut millions in federal funding. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently extended the hospital’s deadline for fixing the problems from April 1 to May 3.
A federal judge also has said the hospital has failed to provide timely competency services to mentally ill people charged with crimes.
Many of the hospital’s problems stem from a staffing shortage, Inslee said. As of April 3, there were 146 nursing and therapy vacancies, according to a state spokeswoman. Inslee said this year’s budget offered bonuses and an increase in salaries to recruit and retain more hospital staff.
Strange said her immediate focus will be on meeting with staff and residents to see “what’s working, what’s not working.”
“That’s a really critical component,” she said.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announces that Cheryl Strange, second from left, is the new head of Western State Hospital as Pat Lashway, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services, left, looks on, during a news conference Tuesday.
Sen. Mark Miloscia, a Republican from Federal Way, said that the firing was “better late than never.”
“I’ve been calling on him to take control of his agency and start firing people for their incompetence,” he said.
Western State Hospital nursing supervisor Paul Vilja said Adler was difficult to work with.
“As a previous union officer, I met with this CEO at least two times per week for several years,” Vilja told the Associated Press. “At no time did I feel that he assimilated the data that was provided. … In some meetings, he lost his temper and often made inappropriate comments.”
Doug Wood, who is married to a hospital employee, said Adler was not qualified for the position.
Western State Hospital, the largest psychiatric hospital in the state, in Lakewood, Wash.
“State law mandates the Western State Hospital Superintendent be a psychiatrist for the protection of patients and staff,” Wood said. “The CEO is not qualified to manage this dangerous occupation because he is not a psychiatrist. I hope the talented psychiatrists he fired or put on leave come back to the hospital in his absence.”
Inslee said that he talked with staff, who shared their concerns.
“In my discussions with the staff, they did not have the sense that their ideas, recommendations, aspirations were getting adequate consideration by the leadership team,” he said. “They did not have confidence that the CEO was going to be able to really bring them into the decision-making process.”
He said that while Adler tried to make improvements in recent months, “they just were not adequate to what we need to see happen there.”
Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for the Department of Social and Health Services, said Adler was not available for comment until later in the week.
Dennis Brockschmidt, a nurse who had been assaulted by a patient in 2014 and feared for his safety, said he was pleased with Adler’s firing.
“We are all overjoyed here and are wondering why it took so long,” he said. “We’re hoping that some of the policies that he implemented that hurt us will be overturned.”