Western State CEO fired after escapes from psychiatric facility

By: KIRO 7 Staff and The Associated Press

Updated:
The Chief Executive Officer of Western State Hospital, Washington’s largest psychiatric facility, was fired after three patients escaped, and Governor Jay Inslee announced the appointment of a new CEO. 
 
Cheryl Strange was named by Inslee in a 1:30 p.m. briefing Tuesday, is an expert in mental health and health care issues and begins her new duties April 25th. She previously was assistant director for the DSHS Mental Health Division from 2006 to 2008.
 
Ron Adler was the Western State CEO in charge during the escapes. He started that job in fall 2013.
 
"The ongoing issues at Western have justifiably eroded public confidence - and my confidence - regarding the management of this troubled hospital," Inslee said in a statement. "Though legislators and I have been working to address the severe staffing shortage at the hospital and restore funding that was cut deeply during the recession, it is clear that a transformative cultural change is needed. 
 
Strange was the assistant director for the DSHS Mental Health Division, where she managed the state public mental health system, including three state hospitals, including WSH, and community outpatient mental health services, Inslee’s staff said. 
 
She managed a staff of 2,000 and oversaw a $900 million annual budget and was responsible for compliance with the home and community-based services federal waiver, and successful accreditation by the Joint Commission and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, according to Inslee’s staff. 
 
Escapes from Western State
 
On Sunday, Washington officials promised they were working quickly to increase security at the state's psychiatric hospitals after a week in which two patients escaped and another two went missing.
 
A man accused of torturing a 20-year-old woman to death in 2013 was recaptured Friday night after a two-day, cross-state manhunt that some worried would not end peacefully.
 
"I was afraid this was going to go sideways," Spokane sheriff's spokesman Mark Gregory said Saturday. "I'm glad it didn't."
 
Gregory gave much of the credit for Anthony Garver's capture to a canine officer named Gunnar. The dog found Garver hiding in the woods near his family home in Spokane, then signaled two human officers.
 
The Washington Corrections Department has taken custody of Garver, who is now being held at Airway Heights Correction Center in eastern Washington, according to Kathy Spears of the state Social and Health Services Department.
 
Garver, 28, escaped from Western State Hospital across the state in Lakewood on Wednesday night. He crawled out a window of a locked, lower-security unit with another patient, Mark Alexander Adams, 58, who was caught the next day.
 
On Saturday, officials at the state health agency said security is being enhanced at Washington state psychiatric hospitals in the wake of the escape.
 
They are focused on boosting security in the Lakewood hospital's civil commitment area, where Garver and Adams recently were transferred from the criminal section, according to a statement from the department. The men were moved because of a change in the state's Involuntary Treatment Act, the agency said.
 
Garver was under a civil commitment after he finished serving his incarceration period, said Jeremy Barclay, corrections spokesman.
 
 
Two other patients took "unescorted leaves" from the hospital during the manhunt, state officials said. One was on an escorted outing on campus and has not been found.
 
Another had been approved for discharge and was awaiting community placement but did not return from a visit to a fast-food restaurant. Seattle police found him Saturday.
 
Unauthorized leaves not rare
 
Garver and Adams' escape from inside the hospital was rare, but unauthorized leaves are not, said Carla Reyes, assistant secretary for the health agency's Behavioral Health Administration.
 
"However, two unauthorized leaves and two escapes in one week is unacceptable, and immediate steps are being taken to improve security at the facility and to retrain staff," she said in a statement. "The safety of the public, the patients and staff is paramount."
 
The hospital also has restricted patient movement on the grounds of Western State and outside the hospital for the weekend.
 
Also Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee expressed concern about the way the hospital is being operated and said he expects swift action to prevent future escapes.
 
"This incident put the public at risk, the staff at risk and the patients at risk," Inslee said in a statement. "This raises serious questions once again about the management and operation of this troubled hospital."
 
The escapes also intensified federal scrutiny on Western State Hospital, Washington's largest psychiatric facility.
 
U.S. regulators already were investigating a recent violent attack on a worker and a patient-on-patient sexual assault at the hospital. A workplace inspection released this week found a series of missteps that posed safety risks, including unlocked rooms and unattended items that could be used as weapons.
 
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has repeatedly cited the facility over safety concerns and threatened to cut millions in federal funding.
 
Garver was charged in 2013 with tying a 20-year-old woman to her bed with electrical cords, stabbing her 24 times in the chest and slashing her throat, prosecutors said.
 
After Garver escaped, he bought a bus ticket to Spokane, where his parents live. Garver had last been seen Thursday in the Spokane area, nearly 250 miles from Lakewood, after his father called authorities to report his son had stopped by briefly.
 
Information from Associated Press reporter Donna Gordon-Blankinship is included in this report. 

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