State workers picket over Western State Hospital closures

Oct 13, 2011

LAKEWOOD, Wash. – Unionized state workers are protesting a cost-cutting proposal to close five wards at one of Washington's mental institutions. More than a dozen employees staged a lunch-time picket Thursday outside Western State Hospital.

They grilled hotdogs, waved signs and chanted, "Put people first."

Workers from Western State lined the busy boulevard across from the brick hospital. Devon Ellis says the plan to mothball five housing units will endanger the public.

"If you put these patients out here in this community we know somebody might get killed," he says. "It's not safe."

Challenging on all fronts

Managers at Western State have identified about 150 patients who they say would be better off in adult family homes or nursing homes.

Western State CEO Jess Jamieson says his plan is to spend some of the savings from closing the wards to create placement beds in the community.

"There's absolutely nothing easy about this process," he says. "It's going to be challenging on all fronts. And that said I'm confident that we have folks that are willing to step up and solve this in a way that’s going to be best for our patients."

About 200 jobs at Western State would be lost. There's also a proposal to close one ward at Eastern State Hospital near Spokane.

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