New facility to provide Snohomish County residents with long-term involuntary psychiatric care


Shane Ersland


Washington health officials aim to provide a local option for Snohomish County residents who are deemed to be in need of involuntary psychiatric treatment with the construction of a new facility in Stanwood.

Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA) Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery Director Dr. Keri Waterland said Snohomish County does not currently have the capacity to serve community members who are issued long-term involuntary psychiatric orders.

“Previously, people had to go to the two state psychiatric hospitals if they were ordered for longer lengths of treatment,” Waterland said.

Long-term involuntary psychiatric care is currently offered at Western State Hospital in Lakewood, and Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake.

Kara Panek, the section manager for the HCA’s Adult Services and Involuntary Treatment section within the Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery, said the state utilizes civil commitment laws to protect people who are experiencing severe and acute behavioral health symptoms. People experiencing a crisis can be evaluated by a designated crisis responder (DCR) to determine if they are a danger to themselves, to others, to property, or might be gravely disabled, meaning they are unable to care for themselves. If their behavior fits into any of those categories, they can be transported to a treatment facility.

“The DCR can detain a person to a treatment facility to evaluate their condition for up to five days,” Panek said. “The detaining facility may determine that more involuntary treatment is needed, and if so, a court order will be sought. Additional involuntary treatment would then be ordered for 14 more days. After that, additional treatment orders are for 90 or 180 days.”

The HCA has been contracting with residential treatment facilities and community hospitals for beds for people who are on 90- or 180-day involuntary treatment orders over the past three years. The HCA is currently contracted for only six beds of that type in Snohomish County, Panek said.

The HCA plans to build a 16-bed facility to provide inpatient evaluation and treatment services to serve people who are civilly committed on 90- or 180-day orders, Panek said. The facility will be located off of Northwest 300th Street in Stanwood, placing patients in a local facility where they can get support from family members and friends.

“There are similar facilities in communities across the state,” Panek said. “Our state needs a continuum of services that can help keep people within their communities and help them on their road to behavioral health recovery. We found that people do better when they stay connected to their friends, family, and home.”

The HCA will own the facility and will hire a behavioral health provider to operate it. Mental health treatment services there will be individualized and will include counseling, medication management, and other rehabilitative services.

The first phase of construction is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2023 and will take 16 months to complete. Officials are also planning a second phase of the project, which would create additional space for more beds. The facility is tentatively scheduled to open in 2024.

Waterland said the project falls in line with Gov. Jay Inslee’s five-year plan to modernize and transform the state’s mental health system.

“Part of the plan is to end civil patients being placed in large state hospitals, in favor of having individuals served closer to their home communities, in smaller, community-based facilities,” Waterland said.