Braun plan for expanding mental-health treatment capacity becomes part of Senate capital-budget package

OLYMPIA…Sen. John Braun’s proposed $500 million investment in mental-health treatment capacity is now embedded in the 2019-21 capital budget proposed Wednesday in the Senate.

Braun said the capital budget’s authors are looking to put the unprecedented infusion of funding toward a new teaching hospital at the University of Washington, to be the hub of a behavioral-health campus in Seattle; creating more mental-health treatment space in communities around Washington; and replacing 500 beds of capacity now at Western State Hospital in Pierce County.

“This represents a tremendous bipartisan commitment toward a new chapter in the state’s approach to mental-health treatment. Increasing access to treatment at the community level will help Washington residents with mental illness to get care sooner – before they get to a crisis level and end up in places where they don’t belong, like jail or an emergency room,” said Braun, R-Centralia, who first proposed the investment strategy at the start of the 2018 legislative session.

“For years our state has been behind most of the others when it comes to community mental-health facilities, whether those are for evaluation and treatment, or crisis triage and stabilization, or detox – and we also know the needs vary from one community to the next. A $500 million investment would be a huge start toward turning things around, and I’m glad to see the support from the capital-budget leaders.”

The next step for Braun’s legislation, which was approved by the Senate budget committee Feb. 25, is a full Senate vote. If both houses of the Legislature back Braun’s plan, voters would also be asked for their approval in November’s general election. That’s because the sale of bonds authorized by Senate Bill 5537 would represent a special form of debt, which under Washington’s constitution must be endorsed by a majority vote.

Washington has two state-run psychiatric hospitals – Western State, and Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake – but no hospital focused on teaching that could expand the state’s behavior-health workforce. The idea of establishing such a facility as part of a behavior-health campus within the UW medical school is contained in House Bill 1593, a bipartisan measure which passed unanimously in the House on March 13 and is to have a public hearing in the Senate tomorrow.