Schlicher bill benefitting mental health patients passes as Senate amendment

OLYMPIA – Physicians caring for mental health patients in need of treatment have had little recourse when a patient is denied care by a county designated mental health agent.

That would change under a measure sponsored by Sen. Nathan Schlicher.

To ensure that his bill was considered by the full Senate prior to Wednesday’s floor action deadline, Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, amended the provisions of his Senate Bill 5456 into Senate Bill 5480.

That bill was unanimously approved by the Senate on March 11.

“Everyone agrees that we need to do more to help the men and women in our state who suffer from a mental illness,” said Schlicher.  “This bill helps break down the barrier between a physician who believes patients pose a danger to themselves or others and the county mental health agent who examines them after treatment has been initiated.”

Under current law, the designated mental health professional makes the determination for involuntary treatment often hours after initial treatment has begun.  This has resulted in a conflict between the treating physician who has seen the patient in the crisis and the county agent that sees them after initial treatment and stabilization.

Until the bill, there was no way for a provider to appeal the denial of treatment.  Under Schlicher’s bill, the provider can give a written objection with an offer of testimony for actions or concerns that the provider believes warrant further treatment that the county agent did not see at the time of their evaluation.  Any county agent who disagrees with the physician’s opinion must reply in writing for the reason that treatment is not warranted, despite the expressed concerns.

“There are so many issues of mental health treatment that are difficult to solve and take time and money. This is about following the standards we already have in law and building a standardized communication structure for when there is conflict,” said Schlicher. “When it comes to a patient’s well-being and protecting both the patient and the public, we need to ensure that all factors are considered. We need to know that the professionals who examine the men and women in need of treatment are talking to each other and that important opinions and information are being shared.  This bill does that.”

Additionally, under current law, a patient with a medical illness like dementia, who has psychiatric symptoms such as thoughts of hurting themselves or others, can be denied treatment and detention.  Schlicher’s bill will require that the psychiatric symptoms that warrant treatment get it.

“Washington law is clear; involuntary treatment for mental health conditions must be done under the Involuntary Treatment Act standard,” said Schlicher. “Denying coverage for these types of patients leaves them and their families without other options.  We must care for these vulnerable individuals as the law requires, and this bill clarifies the standard.”


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