A coalition of 22 Washington counties, including Douglas and Grant counties, is taking legal action against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

The group has filed a lawsuit over the Department's handling of behavioral health services.

It focuses on criminal defendants who cannot have their mental competence restored in court after being deemed incompetent to stand trial.

DSHS has assumed responsibility for evaluating them for possible civil commitment for treatment after charges have been dropped by county superior courts.

The suit says DSHS has conceded that state law requires it to admit civil conversion patients for evaluations.

It accuses DSHS of inconsistencies in admissions of civil conversion patients since December 2022.

It further says that after July 13, 2023, there was a noticeable drop in the admittance of those patients for mandatory evaluations.

The suit says the actions of DSHS in failing to handle those patients violates state law and court orders.

The claim contends the department is harming mentally unstable people and creating pubic danger.

It reads, "DSHS' s refusal to perform its legal duty to evaluate civil conversion patients deprives these patients of care they are statutorily entitled to, precludes any evaluation of whether the patients are likely to recommit potentially serious and violent offenses as a result of a mental health disorder, and risks returning these individuals to communities where they may pose a risk to themselves and others."

The claim also says the department's action places an undue burden on counties.

"DSHS has also improperly sought to shift the burden and expense of its own statutory obligations to the Counties, which would require the diversion of critical resources from other essential needs," the claim reads.

"Because the conversion commitment statutes are available only to DSHS, conversion commitment patients are denied necessary mental health treatment and public safety is negatively impacted."

The lawsuit asks the court to require DSHS to accept civil conversion patients for civil commitment evaluations.

The case could be heard in about two weeks. It'll be presented in the Pierce County Superior Court.

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