SEATTLE - Washington state gubernatorial candidate Bill Bryant stood behind a table holding 25,000 keys and called on Gov. Jay Inslee to release reports on staffing and other problems at the state's largest psychiatric hospital.
The keys represented the number of master keys that corrections officials discovered were missing from Western State Hospital during a security review in response to the escape of two violent patients. The corrections report was made public last week by The Associated Press.
Bryant, a Republican, on Wednesday blasted Inslee's handling of problems at the 800-bed facility, saying the Democrat responded too late in most cases and failed to be transparent about the hospital's many failings. Bryant said the public only learned about the problems from the media.
"The cumulative evidence woven together reveals negligence and incompetence at best, and election year cover up at worst," said Bryant Wednesday.
The hospital is still working to meet federal standards for certification and federal funding to the tune of $64 million dollars.
"If this federal funding is lost, particularly with the pressures of McCleary, it would force cuts that could undermine safety net programs at a time I want our state to increase funding for mental health, housing and homelessness.
When pressed for a plan or specifics on how he plans to increase funding, Bryant used a buzz word that he's used before: zero based budgeting, which involves analysis of every program.
“We need to re-evaluate what we're doing and how we're delivering services to the people who need it,” Bryant said. “So it's not just a function of coming up with a dollar number of how much more, but it's figuring out whether we're doing the right things.”
The Inslee campaign, meanwhile, called Bryant's news conference a "desperate press stunt from a faltering campaign," and points to Western State's services being gutted during the recession.
"Under Governor Jay Inslee, we've stopped the disinvestment in mental health, and have built back much of the hospital's capacity," Inslee's campaign spokesman Jamal Raad wrote in a statement. "He's hired new leadership, funded 120 new beds, reduced wait times over 25%, and hired dozens of new nurses and support staff."
Western State was the main topic of Bryant's speech, but his campaign had earlier indicated voters would hear about his education policy this week.
Bryant said he's still working out the details with lawmakers and educators, but he wants to open up opportunities for pre-apprenticeship programs or industry certifications, so kids who don't go to college can still earn a family wage job.
“I want to have in this program a reinvention of the last two years of high school,” Bryant said.
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