OLYMPIA — Every legislative session a myriad of bills are introduced, great debate occurs, but most policy dies for a variety of reasons. This year, mental health was the exception.

Considerable progress was accomplished on meaningful mental health policy through a bipartisan effort, led by Democrats.

“Behavioral health is just as important as physical health,” said Sen. Karen Keiser, D—Kent. “Getting our most vulnerable citizens the help they need to be well is not only in the individual’s best interest, but can also prevent unnecessary tragedy. I am grateful for the infusion of federal funding associated with Obamacare and Medicaid expansion that give the needed financial boost to help implement many of these efforts.”

Keiser began work last summer after a rash of shootings by people suffering from mental illness and in response to the gun related killing tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The focus was also in anticipation of Medicaid expansion that will bring new funding opportunities into Washington state.

The mental health policy reform package introduced this session is one of the largest in recent memory. Many of the policies are expected to be signed into law.

Examples of substantial mental health policy include:

Implementing new standards for involuntary commitment. Senate Bill 5480 implements new standards for involuntary commitment proceedings that allow for more information from family and friends to be considered by the judge and the mental health professionals that decide whether an individual should be committed. Additional mental health services in the community will be established to limit the need for hospitalization under the Involuntary Treatment Act. The bill is funded with $14 million in the Senate budget for additional mental health services.

Troubled youth. House Bill 1336 requires school counselors, psychologists, social workers and nurses to complete a training course in youth suicide screening. This incorporates Keiser’s mental health first aid bill, SB 5333.

Connecting health care professionals. SB 5456 requires a designated mental health professional (DMHP) who is evaluating a person for possible involuntary treatment to consult with the Emergency Room physician about the patient. Sometimes a patient who has come into the ER with a severe mental health episode receives medication and treatment and by the time the DMHP interviews the patient, the symptoms have been alleviated and the severity of the symptoms have been masked.

Creating a statewide behavioral health approach. SB 5732 establishes a statewide approach to mental health services. Currently, every county has a different approach in treatment standards and in some counties, jails have become de facto mental hospitals. This bill directs the state to adopt evidence-based protocols and statewide standards for treatment and creates a bottom-up task force to reform our approach to adult behavioral health. This measure is sponsored by Sen. Mike Carrell, who became ill during session. Carrell hopes to recover from his illness and lead the task force. This bill incorporates Keiser’s SB 5397 to set standards for improved outcomes for adult behavioral health services.

Mental health commitment information. SB 5282 requires the Department of Licensing to develop a proposal for the consolidation of statewide involuntary commitment data. This bill incorporates Keiser’s SB 5397 that establishes requirements for Regional Support Networks to provide historical and new involuntary commitment data to the Department of Social and Health Services.

Firearms and mental health courts. SB 5478 would have prohibited possession of firearms for defendants in mental health courts. Unfortunately, this bill died in policy committee.


For more information: Alison Dempsey-Hall, 360.786.7887