Seattle Mental-Health Official Resigns After Scrutiny of Patient Records

August 21, 2014

The King County coordinator for treating mentally ill residents against their will has resigned following scrutiny of how her team failed to meet legal deadlines, resulting in hundreds of dangerously sick patients being released without care.

The Aug. 1 departure of JoEllen Watson adds another burden to the county Department of Community and Health Services as it scrambles to comply with a recent state Supreme Court order to stop temporarily detaining patients in hospital emergency rooms, a practice known as “psychiatric boarding.”

Because of a severe shortage of mental-health-treatment facilities, King County has been boarding 90 percent of detained county patients in ERs. They stay an average of three days, often tied to gurneys to prevent injury.

Watson agreed to resign, not sue the county and not seek future county employment in return for a neutral reference letter and the removal of a reprimand letter from her personnel file, according to a settlement signed in early June.

The settlement came two weeks after Watson was placed on administrative leave so supervisors could review issues raised in a Seattle Times investigation, county spokeswoman Sherry Hamilton said.

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