Northwest Voices | Letters to the Editor
Washington state public mental-health system needs reform
Effective leadership can solve mental-health boarding crisis
We read with interest and much appreciation the column by Jonathan Martin about the psychiatric “boarding” crisis in Washington [“Fix broken mental-health system,” Opinion, Feb. 4]. He is correct to point out that this is an extremely challenging situation for a region that places a high value on the delivery of health care for those in need in our community.
As you know, the majority of boarded patients in Seattle/King County end up in the emergency departments of our safety-net hospitals in the University of Washington Medicine health system, i.e., Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, Valley Medical Center and Northwest Hospital & Medical Center.
Accordingly, we are actively involved in efforts locally and nationally to disseminate care-delivery models developed at UW Medicine that have been demonstrated to build capacity to provide psychiatric care in the primary-care setting and to improve access to routine medical care for the seriously mentally ill population receiving care in the community mental-health-care system.
Several of our faculty and UW Medicine leaders are also involved in discussions at the state and county level to address these urgent problems.
We are hopeful that these efforts will be productive and agree that impending health-care reform and the statewide Medicaid expansion provide important opportunities to re-engineer the mental-health-care system in Washington.
This will not happen without effective leadership, so we applaud enthusiastically Martin’s efforts to bring these issues to the public.
--Richard C. Veith, chief of Psychiatric Services, UW Medical Center, chair, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UW School of Medicine
Jürgen Unützer, professor and vice chair, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UW School of Medicine