DSHS: serious questions must be answered

SPOKANE, Wash. - The Department of Social and Health Services addressed questions about Eastern State Hospital's decision to allow a "criminally insane" schizophrenic killer to go to the Spokane County Interstate Fair.  That patient, 47-year-old Phillip A. Paul, escaped from hospital staff while at the fair.

DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus says the department has asked the State Department of Corrections to investigate a broad set of questions regarding the policies at both Eastern State Hospital in Medical Lake and Western State Hospital in Lakewood.  Dreyfus says she and DSHS are seriously questioning the security readiness of both EHS and WHS. 

A 30-day critical incident review will be conducted regarding the escape at the fair.  In the meantime, all public outings for hospital patients have been suspended.

"We need to look at our operations," said Dreyfus.  "[Our patients] depend on us for the safety and security of their family members, just as our community members depend on the hospitals not to endanger those who live around them."

DSHS says they expect a preliminary report within 15 days.  When asked if she was outraged at the decision to take 31 criminally insane patients to the fair, Dreyfus said, "I need to have more facts before me regarding the people at the fair, the situation that was involved, and why it was believed that they had earned, therapeutically...the right to go to the fair."

Eastern State Policy allows patients to take backpacks with them during outings, but Phillip Paul's backpack was not searched at any point during the trip.  DSHS says investigators are trying to find out why that happened but could not comment on that specific portion of the investigation.

"All the questions that are being raised are legitimate and need to be answered," said Dreyfus. 

Until March of 2009, EHS was required to notify Washington State Patrol if it was taking a group of "at-risk" patients to a public outing.  That is no longer a requirement, and WSP says their office did not receive a call following the escape Thursday.  KHQ Local News reporter Bill McGinty posed the question, "Wouldn't common sense just dictate that you call law enforcement and say ‘We're going to take 31 criminally insane people to the fair.'"

Dreyfus responded, "I would agree with you on that, and that's one of the things that the governor and I talked about that concerns us." 

The law enforcement notification policy will be part of the investigation.  DSHS says it will also consider possible permanent changes to hospital policy, which could include a permanent suspension on public trips.  However, Dreyfus points out that a number of mentally ill patients respond well to treatment and should not be denied the opportunity to assimilate into society.

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