Latest escapes from Western State called 'unacceptable'

Washington State Rep. Laurie Jinkins says she is relieved that the last of the two escapees from Western State Hospital is now in custody.

"Thank goodness that everyone is safe, that the community is safe," said Jinkins, a Tacoma Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. "That no one who works at the hospital was harmed and that both of these individuals are safe."

But the escape of three dangerous patients from the state mental facility in the last five years brings into sharp relief the delicate balance the state must achieve.

"Is it a prison or is it a hospital?" asked Jinkins. "It's a hospital. The courts have made that very clear to us that it is a hospital where people are supposed to get care but we also want to make sure they're safe."

The two men who escaped Wednesday -- 28-year-old Anthony Garver and 59-year-old Mark Adams -- are both back in custody.  In 2011, 26-year-old Jonathan Wilson, a convicted arsonist, was gone less than 24 hours. But the issues then were the same as now, aging facilities and poorly paid staff.

"It's a dangerous environment to work in," said Craig Gibelyou, a longtime unionized nurse, citing patient-on-patient and patient on-staff assaults.

"With that danger coupled with low wages, it's not worth it to a lot of people to work there," said Gibelyou, a licensed practical nurse who has worked at Western State nearly 18 years.

But Jinkins says in the last two years, the state Legislature has invested nearly $100 million in mental health care.

"A huge percentage of that has been to make improvements at Western State Hospital," she insisted.  "Unfortunately, the salaries that we pay staff are so low, that even though the money has been sitting there, ready to hire people, we're not paying people enough for them to want to come and work."

She says the Democrats wanted to include pay incentives to keep people on the job at Western State.  But the Republicans didn't go along with that.

She says a lot of people will now be looking at these escapes to try to prevent them in the future.