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UW teaching hospital plan passes Washington House

March 14, 2019

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The state House approved a plan for a new University of Washington teaching hospital, a prominent part of Gov. Jay Inslee’s plans to address the state’s mental health crisis.

Lawmakers unanimously approved the proposal Wednesday. It would charge UW officials with starting a new facility focused on training medical students to enter the broader behavioral health field, which includes both mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The bill comes as one part of a broader push from Democrats and Inslee to address the state’s troubled mental health system along with surging substance abuse and homelessness -- problems advocates say are interlinked.

Under the proposal, the university’s school of medicine would draw up plans for a new teaching campus with a capacity for 150 patients.

Other key details of the facility haven’t been hammered out yet, said Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, but it will likely take the form of a new building at one of three sites: the university’s existing medical center campus in Seattle, Harborview medical center, and Northwest hospital in North Seattle.

Inslee has described a deficit of trained health care providers as a contributing factor in the state’s mental health crisis.

In 2018, one of the state’s two psychiatric hospitals lost its federal certification and federal funding after failing health and safety inspections, and courts have cited long wait times for treatment in ruling against the state in at least one prominent case.

Chopp sponsored the proposal at Inslee’s request, a first during his 20 years as speaker of the House, and introduced it before Tuesday’s vote.

“Every one of us in this House knows someone, either a family member or a friend, who is afflicted in this way,” Chopp said, his voice audibly breaking.

Chopp afterward explained that a close family member has dealt with significant mental illness, giving him a personal window into the state’s mental health system.

Rep. Joe Schmick, a Colfax Republican and the ranking GOP member on the House Health Care and Wellness committee, said after the vote that mental health has become a bipartisan issue in the House.

But Schmick said he wanted to see changes in the bill, including some mechanism to keep trainees in Washington for a period of time after graduation.

“I want these folks to serve in Washington. I don’t want to raise them up and train them with public dollars to see them move away,” Schmick said.

Schmick also said he thought remodeling existing facilities could be an alternative to building a new one.

Funds for initial planning and preliminary construction costs will likely be included in this year’s budget from House Democrats, but the total cost of building the facility is still unclear, potentially until the university submits specific plans in advance of the 2020 legislative session.

Following Wednesday’s vote the proposal heads to the Senate for consideration.

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