A nationwide shortage of psychiatric treatment beds is forcing thousands of mental health patients to wait for the help they desperately need.
SEATTLE -- A nationwide shortage of psychiatric treatment beds is forcing thousands of mental health patients to wait for the help they desperately need.
Washington ranks at the bottom for such hospital beds, and one local mother said the consequence for her family was deadly.
"Sometimes I feel like I'm on a rampage, because I'm angry," said Lorena Taylor-McPhail.
Taylor-McPhail's son, 21-year-old Jordan Anderson, was battling mental illness, and she said he couldn't get help when he needed it the most.
"That was the last time I saw him alive," she said.
A former Gig Harbor resident, Taylor-McPhail felt so compelled to tell he son's story that she flew to Seattle from Colorado to speak with KOMO.
The day before he died, Taylor-McPhail found her son on a Sunday morning. He was dressed for church but in no shape to go anywhere.
"He was laying on his bed saying he had a war going on in his head between good and evil," she said.
The trouble first surfaced in his junior year of high school, and by January of 2011 the psychotic breaks from reality were regular. In June of 2011, Taylor's hallucinations convinced him he was a "spiritual being" sent to save the world.
"He seemed to not be able to connect consequence and action," Taylor-McPhail said.
To save mankind, he told his mother he had to jump into a different dimension. Jordan's mom called the hospital where he had last been treated.
"I called his nurse and she said they're full, they couldn't take him," she said.
She wanted Jordan involuntarily committed. Patients considered a danger to themselves or others can be involuntarily hospitalized and treated for mental illness, but a shortage of certified psychiatric hospital beds statewide can result in delayed care.
She tried another hospital, with similar results.
"I said, 'Can't you take him in?' He said they're full, there's no room for him and he's not that bad," Taylor-McPhail said.
Being in and out of the system, Jordan learned how to convince anyone, even hospital staff, he didn't need help.
The next day, Taylor-McPhail believes Jordan thought he was leaping through "the grid" and into what he believed was a "different dimension."
"He jumped out of the Fairmont Hotel, the eleventh story," she said.
Pausing to let it sink in, Taylor-McPhail stared into her folded hands, then looked up and admitted, "This is the first time I've been in downtown Seattle since he died."
She now wonders if her son would still be alive had a psychiatric bed been available.
"Had there been room, they may have taken Jordan that night," she said.
In February, the Problem Solvers reported on the widespread and legal practice of boarding mental illness patients.
"It's really tragic because people aren't getting the level of services that they need at the time of detention, eventually they get the help they need," said Amnon Shoenfeld, Director of King County Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division.
Already this year, Shoenfeld says 1,521 patients in King County had to wait to get help and were parked or boarded in a hospital ER until a psych bed became available. They're kept safe, but get no mental health treatment while they wait. In Snohomish County, 41 percent of its patients waited.
"Our mental health system is broken, terribly broken," said Pierce County Superior Court Commissioner Craig Adams.
Smith recently ruled the practice of psychiatric boarding unconstitutional.
"They are the castoffs of our society when you have that, we have to be their first and last defense," he said.
A Superior Court judge upheld Smith's ruling, but the Washington State Attorney General's Office filed an appeal, arguing the court lacks jurisdiction. Pierce County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Ken Nichols suggested doing something is better than nothing.
"...a non-psychiatric hospital bed is preferable to leaving a gravely disabled person to remain in crisis unaided," he said in an email.
Commissioner Adams disagreed, saying, "If I'm wrong, the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court will tell me."
The recent passage of state mental health bills during the last legislative session makes it easier to commit people in crisis and to create more psychiatric hospital beds, but the Director of King County Mental Health worries the $28 million to fund three new facilities and the $2.8 million allocated to launch additional community services won't be enough.
"I've compared it to, we are in a 20-foot hole and we're trying to dig our way out," Shoefeld said. "That hole is the lack of psych beds right now, and the legislature just gave us a 10 foot ladder ,that gets us part way out, but we are still in the hole."
The mental health bill changes won't be implemented until July 2014.
DSHS's Assistant Secretary of Behavioral Health & Services Integration, Jane Beyer, said her agency is in the process of reviewing statewide requests to fund additional mental health resources. The state is relying on a Washington State Institute for Public Policy study which determined the funding will be adequate.
Beyer said she believes and hopes it's enough. Some lawmakers, including State Senator Karen Keiser, called the passed mental health bills a "big step forward in treating mental health issues." On her work website, Keiser said she kept Jordans's story in mind as she worked on the bills.
"Jordan's dying wish was that he would save people," Taylor-McPhail said. "If this accomplishes that, I feel like I gave him his dying wish. If it saves one person it's worth it."
She knows the price of saving money has been too high.