Behavioral health hospital in Tukwila suddenly closing; patients scrambling

Hundreds of employees laid off and patients left with few options - that’s the fallout people are bracing for as a mental health facility in Tukwila is about to close its doors.

288 employees will be let go from Cascade Behavioral Health Hospital, according to a Washington State WARN notice published Thursday.  The hospital didn’t give a specific reason for the closure but said in a statement in part, “the breadth of challenges created a situation where the long-term viability of the hospital was no longer sustainable.”

It’s set to be shut down by July 31 after operating for 10 years in Tukwila.

King County and healthcare union leaders are already looking at options to save the hospital, saying losing the facility will be devastating.

Patients KIRO7 spoke with on Friday were just finding out and nearly in tears.

“It’s so heartbreaking because it is so sudden,” said Tabitha Amoroso, a patient and Kent resident. “Where do we go? Who do we talk to?”

She was part of a group of outpatients getting help for depression, anxiety, and recovering from trauma. Patients said people waited months, switched insurances, or drove hours to access the care. Now they’re at a loss about where to get help next.

“It’s terrifying,” said Margret McGrew, another patient and Seattle resident. “I was able to come here and I had to fight like hell to get here. It took forever, and I’m finally getting better,” she said. McGrew shared that a past treatment unexpectedly triggered mania. Despite her severe condition, it still took two weeks to get placed in the hospital.

“What makes me so angry is how lucky I got getting in here, before this closure,” McGrew said. She’s worried about where others in her position will go.

“This was the first program I found that was focused on mental health where it wasn’t recovery from drugs, it was recovery from trauma. This is the first program I’ve seen that’s voluntary outpatient,” said Niamh, a patient and Puyallup resident.

Cascade said it will be working with local and state agencies to transition patients, but people KIRO7 spoke with on Friday said they had not yet been informed about other options.

Some employees were also finding out about the closure on Friday. Jessica Hoffman said she is a contracted dietitian and nutritionist at Cascade Behavioral Health and helps patients manage diet and the role food plays when it comes to mental health.

“It’s a shock, you’re catching me in shock,” she said. “It is unfortunate because of course there is a huge need,” she said.

The facility’s Bellevue Connections location, which has only been open for about a year, will also shut down.

Jane Hopkins is the union president for local healthcare workers, SEIU Healthcare 1199 NW, and a registered nurse.

“In 60 days, they’re going to close it down. Close it down!” Hopkins said. “It’s bad for the community, bad for King County,  bad for Washington state, and it’s bad for the patients. We have to do something,” she said.

Hopkins said they are sounding the alarm, far and wide.

“We have to figure out a way to keep this open. I’m asking legislators, I’m asking employers that specialize in behavioral health. Here is a facility that’s got all the things that you need – buy it,” she said.

The change is coming at a time when access to mental health care is already in crisis. Cascade Behavioral Health serves not only outpatients, but provides addiction services, and also has 40 inpatients getting full-time care.

“Heartbreaking doesn’t even begin to cover it – it’s horrific. it’s an injustice,” Amoroso said. “The treatment is working, I promise it’s working. please keep us open,” she said.

King County recently passed a nine-year $1.25 billion dollar levy to build five Crisis Care Centers for mental health treatment to help provide more services. KIRO7′s Deedee Sun asked Executive Dow Constantine’s office and Councilmember Girmay Zahilay if the county is looking at options to take over the hospital.

Zahilay said over the phone that the situation is moving abruptly and that the hospital appeared to already be unwinding and unraveling. But Zahilay said he would be speaking with other leaders to examine options to recover the facility before it’s too late.

“Is there interest? Absolutely. Every hospital we lose is a lost opportunity to provide care to people who need it. We are in a crisis right now,” Zahilay said.

Chase Gallagher with Constantine’s office said they are also looking at if there are options to partner with the state and Cascade Behavioral Health, calling the facility critical.

“Losing this large, privately owned and operated treatment center would be a major loss for our community, and only exacerbate the needs to be addressed by the Crisis Care Centers Levy funding when it begins in 2024,” Gallagher said in an email.

Cascade Behavioral Health Hospital said in its statement:

“Cascade has made the difficult decision to close its operations by July 31. Prior to our closure, Cascade will work with state and local agencies to ensure an orderly transition of remaining patients to the appropriate services as determined by the clinical treatment team.

Through COVID and other complexities, Cascade proudly remained steadfast in our commitment to our patients and community. However, the breadth of challenges created a situation where the long-term viability of the hospital was no longer sustainable.

Cascade opened its doors in 2013 to restore the lives of adults in the local communities we serve, renewing their hope for a better tomorrow. We were a solution to a community that needed access to acute behavioral healthcare.

Over the past 10 years, Cascade has helped 25,000 patients through serious mental health and substance use issues, providing a source of hope and healing for those in desperate need. We want to thank our staff for their hard work and dedication in serving Tukwila and the surrounding communities.”