(The Center Square) – Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Schwartz has ruled in favor of a lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, ordering the state to fulfill its obligation to evaluate and treat patients with behavioral health conditions.
In August, a coalition of 22 Washington state counties and the Washington State Association of Counties sued the Washington Department of Social and Health Services over the department’s administration of behavioral health services.
Despite court orders and state laws requiring DSHS to provide such treatment, the department asserted that it is no longer obligated to evaluate or treat patients whose criminal charges are dismissed, citing a federal judge’s orders in a separate case.
Schwartz’s granted order requires the department to immediately perform its statutory obligation to evaluate all new conversion patients. This includes people whose criminal charges were dismissed after they were found incompetent and non-restorable.
The department is also required to provide proper notice when releasing existing conversion patients in order to ensure community safety.
“Today’s ruling affirms the state’s basic obligation to evaluate the behavioral health needs of people in the legal system who cannot be tried because they lack the ability to aid in their own defense, and to give them an opportunity for meaningful treatment,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “With today’s ruling, counties across Washington can move forward with greater clarity, working with the state and other jurisdictions on the funding and strategies to meet the needs of the people we all serve.”
The department previously told The Center Square in an email that the challenge of tackling the mental health problem does not become easier when counties demand the state and superior court ignore a federal court order.
The department said that the requests to provide inpatient evaluations and services increased roughly 145 percent over the past nine fiscal years. In turn, the number of county criminal court orders exceeded the number of treatment beds already added to the forensic system.
The lawsuit states that the department has selectively refused to admit any civil conversion patients since at least December 2022.
The coalition that filed the lawsuit include Asotin, Clallam, Cowlitz, Douglas, Grant, Grays Harbor, Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Klickitat, Lewis, Lincoln, Pacific, Pierce, Skagit, Skamania, Snohomish, Spokane, Thurston, Whatcom and Yakima counties.
According to a press release from the King County Executive’s Office, another six counties have joined the suit, bringing the total number of plaintiff counties to 28.