State: Western State security upgraded, now working on culture

The state says it has made security upgrades to Western State Hospital, but there's much more to be done

PIERCE COUNTY, Wash. – The state spent the summer upgrading security at Western State Hospital. Now it’s time to work on the culture.

After the escape of two patients in April, a state investigation identified several lapses in security.

Doors routinely didn’t close or lock, keys were missing, and the window the patients escaped from had been broken before the April incident.

The investigators were also concerned about the culture within the facility.

“The foremost challenge is changing the culture to recognize that patients are dangerously imperiled by failing to put safety first,” investigators wrote.

“I think in a short period of time the organization has come a long way,” said Sean Murphy, Chief Safety and Security Officer at Western State.

Murphy was hired in June after the escapes and after Governor Jay Inslee fired then-CEO Ron Adler.

Murphy agrees the culture needs to change at Western State.

“Culture shifts are a difficult challenge,” he said.

But Murphy said it can be fixed, just like security upgrades made throughout the hospital.

All of the exterior locks were replaced. Doors that used to stay open because of faulty equipment or air conditioning pressure now close and lock. The kind of windows the patients escaped through can’t be opened without specialty tools.

But Murphy knows more needs to be done.

He hopes having new management and filling some of the more than 100 openings within the hospital will help change the culture, making it a safer place for the patients, the staff, and the community.

“Part of that is getting the full trust of staff,” said Murphy. “Making sure that everybody knows we’ve made mistakes in the past, but we’re willing to improve and learn from those mistakes.”

Copyright 2016 KING


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