We made significant gains for our patients and clients because of our work this session with the Legislature. Together we lobbied and met with our elected leaders, shared our stories about what we see in our workplaces, and insisted that investments in our patients and clients are the only sustainable solution to fixing our broken healthcare system.
Together we gained nearly $50 million in funding for behavioral health, housing, and our state hospitals—$6 million in new immediate investments in 51 frontline RN FTEs at Western State Hospital to help resolve the ongoing staffing crisis. These investments will help our clients and the behavioral health system. However, we only made it halfway to our goal in addressing student debt in our field. We set out to enact a Behavioral Health Professional Loan Repayment program that would provide loan repayment for our worksites. We were able to get this into the House budget, but the Senate refused to consider raising any revenue from closing tax loopholes, and so there was not room in the small supplemental budget. We need to come back next year and make sure that all electeds, including those writing the Senate budget, understand that this is a top priority to ensure we can retain the qualified workforce to deliver the behavioral healthcare Washington needs. For too long, we’ve continued to lose experienced staff because they can’t afford to stay in this profession.
Even though we didn’t get loan repayment this year, the final budget does begin to address pressing crises in our in-patient system while also driving resources into the community to get individuals care where and when they need it. The investments in mobile crisis teams, diversion programs, and peer-bridge step down programs will help provide care in the community and they will also help relieve pressure at the state hospitals, hopefully creating improvements in discharge and admittance at this bottleneck.
“Our representatives are listening to us because we have strength in numbers. At Mental Health Lobby Day they got to see real people telling real stories about the care we provide. The increased funding will make a real difference in housing for our clients and the care we can provide. This is a start, not a finish and I expect to see all of you next year at Lobby Day.”
Rob Robertson, Veterans Case Manager, Catholic Community Services
“Through our work together as a union, RNs at Western fought hard in Olympia during Mental Health Lobby Day for additional staff. Because of our action, the legislature has approved funding for 51 new RN2 FTEs to relieve pressure on the wards which causes safety concerns for our patients and staff. Now we need to stand together to hold Western accountable to use this money for its intended purpose: RN2 staffing increases on the wards.”
Candice Noble, RN2, Western State Hospital
Our outreach results in gains for our patients and clients:
Medicaid suspension for incarcerated individuals. Washington ended Medicaid termination during incarceration and instead passed Medicaid suspension like 21 other states to ensure that upon release people are able to access their healthcare—this is particularly critical for people in need of behavioral healthcare as they come out of the jail system.
Institute certificates of restoration and opportunity and reduce legal financial obligations. By issuing Certificates of Restoration of Opportunity (CROP) to people with criminal records who are reintegrating into society we can promote more just housing and employment practices and decrease recidivism. Additionally, addressing the crisis of Legal Financial Obligations by reducing unfair interest on those who can least afford it will help break the cycle of criminalization of poverty and homelessness.
Reform and oversight at the state hospitals. There were also funds budgeted to hire a consultant to address the staffing models, recruitment and retention, reducing ward size, and a culture of safety. And we know that our state hospital doesn’t operate in a vacuum, so another consultant will work with us and our union colleagues in community mental health to ensure that the full continuum of care works and that we can discharge and admit our patients into a functioning and funded system.
Prescription monitoring. Improves opioid tracking to address the opioid epidemic.
Council on Reentry and community policing. Two bills passed this year, one creating a Washington State Council on Reentry to address the challenges in reentry into society from incarceration and another setting up a task force to address community policing and use of force. Both of these will create valuable forums to talk about how behavioral health clients interact with the criminal justice system and law enforcement, and their unique needs.
Our work is making a difference—but there’s more to do
This significant progress is a good step, and now we need to continue to make sure we’re ready for the full budget session that begins again in January, and to keep key legislative leaders through the general election in November.