Western State Hospital CEO Resigns

Jun 14, 2012

The head of Washington's largest psychiatric hospital is stepping down. Western State Hospital CEO Jess Jamieson announced his resignation to hospital staff Tuesday. The announcement came as the Tacoma-area hospital deals with the aftermath of two patients' violent deaths in April. KUOW's John Ryan has the story.

Jamieson told his staff that he and his wife have had longstanding plans to move to Portland. He said they just learned of the perfect place to move to in downtown Portland.

Jamieson told KUOW he does not have specific employment plans or anything but personal reasons for ending his three years as in charge of the state's most violent workplace.

"One of the things that I'm going to do is not jump back into doing a lot of work," he said. "I'm going to sort of take a professional pause and make some decisions in terms of my work life about what is it that I would like to do next."

Ryan: "Do you feel burned out?"

"I don’t feel burned out," he added. "There's no doubt that this is a very challenging job. But I'll tell you I appreciate the professionalism of the staff here and the quality of care and service that's been provided. This is absolutely strictly a personal and family decision to relocate where we're living."

Even so, the past year has been a rough one at Western State Hospital. Three hundred thirty-five staff were assaulted by patients. That's a slight increase from the year before.

Western also had a suicide and a murder inside its walls this spring.

The two patient deaths led to investigations by local police and by the national hospital-accrediting group known as the Joint Commission. Western had until Tuesday night to respond to the Joint Commission's findings.

Ryan: "Is this an inopportune time to leave Western, with staff morale reportedly being very low and lots of problems being addressed?"

"Basically, there's never a good time to make a life change like this," Jamieson said. "There's always something that will be undone and yet to be completed. That's just the truth of it."

Western declined to release the Joint Commission report. Nor would it disclose the results of its internal investigation.

But KUOW has learned that the Joint Commission report draws attention to at least two longstanding problems at Western: staff shortages and unsafe doors.

20-year-old Megan Templeton of Vancouver, Washington, hanged herself in her room at Western in April. The hospital had been replacing door handles and closing mechanisms that patients could hang themselves from. But the door project had yet to get to hundreds of rooms.

Jamieson says the hospital has accelerated its effort to make doors safer since that hanging.

"But at the end of the day, there isn't any faciliy that can be absolutely foolproof for any kinds of potential hazards for patients," he said.

Western aims to replace more than 400 more door handles by the end of July. Management also aims to fill the hospital's remaining hundred vacancies as soon as possible. They've been on a hiring surge, with 60 new employees starting in recent weeks.

Hospital staff and advocates for the mentally ill have long complained that understaffing at the mental hospital left workers and patients in unsafe situations.

"We have been pushing for them to hire those vacancies for almost two years," said James Robinson, president of State Employees Local 793 and a counselor at Western State Hospital.

"Sometimes, it takes a serious incident in order for them to react, and it should not come to that," he said. "Let's not wait until something happens where we have to do something. Let's be proactive."

CEO Jess Jamieson says the deaths did not prompt the extra effort on the hiring front. And he says it's a coincidence that he's resigning while the hospital is undergoing intense scrutiny. He'll remain on the job until September.

Copyright 2012 KUOW