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As a candidate, I recently spent time in Western State Hospital

Submitted by Ken Witkoe, Candidate Lakewood City Council.

In my humble opinion, a community is always better when the citizens are involved in the constructive dynamics of the vision, planning and solutions of the city.

Western State Hospital

I also feel that it is even more vital that a candidate for said community be relatively involved in the city makeup and forces at work. There are many ways for citizens to get involved, but I will save that for another time.

My headline is a bit misleading; I will admit. I didn’t spend time IN Western State Hospital as a patient, but as an involved citizen and candidate that wants to learn even more about my community.

For over two decades I have spent my time, money and energy in this community. Before Lakewood was a city, I patrolled the streets as a commission reserve deputy with Pierce County. After Lakewood became a city, I helped then Chief Saunders et al, create the new reserve program for the Lakewood Police Department. I also served for several years on the Lakewood Arts Commission and now serve on the Public Safety Advisory Committee as its chair, to name a few.

The new “Star Ward” at WSH

As a citizen I have been concerned about the challenges represented by having a mental health facility so close to home that holds forensic and civil patients. Like you, I have been concerned that some of these forensic patients may get released into Adult Family Homes (AFH) and/or near sensitive areas like schools and in my neighborhood. Like you I have been concerned about the potential threat to our community by escapees.
Most of us are aware of the incident that occurred where a released forensic flip killed another resident in an AFH in Oakbrook – which just validated our fears. For sure this occurrence is extremely rare. But in this issue we should not capitulate based on rarity, in my opinion. Besides, I would not like to be the one that has to tell the next victim’s family, “Well, that doesn’t happen very often.”

To their credit, our state legislators, including Senator Steve O’Ban, are working on the issue. But this is not an article about AFH – that is another issue altogether that needs dire attention. We cannot allow DSHS to make Lakewood and Pierce County to be the dumping ground of criminal sex offenders and felons.

Which leads me to a misnomer I learned about WSH after meeting with CEO Dave Holt and two of his administrators. Western State Hospital doesn’t place forensic patients. DSHS does the placement. Thus, the need for our district legislators and senator to advocate on our behalf.

In my meeting with Dave and his team I heard the oft repeated statement that I felt was heart-generated and sincere: “Our goal is to safeguard the community, the patients and the staff.”

Western State Hospital Fencing

To that end, Dave and his team have made some significant changes and adjustments to the procedures and facilities. There are many. For example, to help mitigate injuries to staff, Dave has created an isolated (from most staff and other patients) area of the hospital called the “Star Ward”.

In this area the more violent and disruptive patients are segregated and have more intensive care. The nursing stations are enclosed, and the staff are given extensive training in ACiT (addiction consultant) and CPI (crisis prevention) procedures. This move helps funnel help to the patients that need it most urgently and protect staff from attacks.

As many of us are concerned about (violent) escapees, Mr. Holt has installed a “quadrangle” fence surrounding the forensic portion of the hospital (it used to be an open campus) which helps eliminate “unauthorized leave”.

A new 300+ bed forensic hospital is being built to replace the current outdated unit. The new building will be dramatically safer and more functional.

There are a lot more questions that need answering and legitimate fears to be put to rest. We know that there are things that still need fixing and addressing. To be sure, mental health issues span a wide area of concerns in our community and state. The questions may seem to overwhelm the solutions.

As a candidate and citizen of Lakewood, my hope is that I will not just yell into the darkness, but light a candle, become more informed and involved. What I hope is that we can work together as a community to come up with creative solutions so that it isn’t an “us vs. them” scenario. After all, an estimated 40% of the employees of Western State Hospital are citizens of Lakewood and they want our community to be as safe as we all do.
Something to think about.

Lastly, since this seems like a daunting issue, we are inviting Mr. Holt and his team to one of our upcoming Public Safety Advisory Committee meetings at the beginning of the year to answer questions and provide more details. You are welcome and encouraged to attend. For more information, please contact me at kenwitkoe@yahoo.com or visit my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/votersforkenwitkoe.

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