Upcoming Conference | 2018 Re-Wire Policy Conference, Dec 13, 2018 Register

43rd L.D. candidate Claire Torstenbo: “Finding a Cure for Washington State’s Mental Health Crisis”

Claire Torstenbo is a Republican candidate running for State Representative of the 43rd Legislative District. In this op-ed, Torstenbo offers her proposal for improving Washington’s mental health care system including the creation of “crisis residential centers” and adopting a legal conservatorship model.


The decertification and loss of federal funding for Western State Hospital (WSH) leaves hundreds of vulnerable patients without care. The Democrats, led by my opponent, Frank Chopp, have failed to properly address homelessness in our state. As a result, homelessness has gotten worse. We need to take a new approach or we will continue to see people living on the streets – a dangerous situation for them and our communities. Now is the time for the Washington State legislature to re-evaluate the state’s mental health care system and explore new ideas for delivering mental health care.

Washington state is seeing historic state revenues, $289 million more than expected. It is critical that the legislature designates funds toward the mental health crisis and acts quickly. Specifically, two areas will have significant impact:

  • First, when the police pick up someone who appears to be mentally ill, they should not be taken to jail. Jail is not the solution, because it does not provide the care they need and may actually trigger additional stress, making the problem worse. The police could take them to “crisis residential centers.” Unfortunately, many communities in Washington don’t have these. Often, we don’t have a place to take these vulnerable people. The legislature should look to create more “crisis residential centers” throughout the state to fill this need.
  • Second, the legislature should seek to create incentives that encourage more qualified people to become psychiatric nurses and physician’s assistants. This will increase the number of people who pursue these careers and ensure that our state’s mental health system is adequately staffed.

To address the critical need to get those suffering from mental illnesses off the streets, the legislature should consider adopting a legal conservatorship model like that of California. The conservator has the responsibility to care for the conservatee’s care and protection. In the case of a seriously ill adult, a state agency can initiate a Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Conservatorship, in which the conservator can consent to care that the conservatee cannot or will not agree to.

This plan would benefit our state in 3 key ways:

  • Provide legal guardianship for those who need immediate help, due to risk of homelessness or potential danger to themselves or others.
  • Empower a caregiver, close to the individual, to make treatment-related decisions that are best for the patient’s well-being.
  • Extend care for patients discharged from a mental health facility who still need oversight, or less impacted adults who need assistance in their daily lives.

Allowing those suffering from mental illness to live on the streets has high social and financial costs. By adopting a legal conservatorship model, we can help to alleviate homelessness through community-based care and emergency care for those who are in critical need.

Now is the time for the Washington state legislature to re-evaluate the state’s mental health care system and explore new ideas to deliver improved mental health care.