A Puget Island man facing attempted murder charges has finally been admitted to Western State Hospital, three months after he was ordered to receive competency restoration there by the Wahkiakum Superior Court.
Lee Wages was arrested March 21 after police say he fired at two deputies and a state trooper who came to check on him. His family, who said Wages suffers from schizophrenia, made an emergency call for help when Wages threatened to shoot a family member who went to speak with him that day.
Wages is charged with three counts of attempted murder, but was found unable to stand trial. On April 16 he was ordered to receive competency restoration at Western State so he can assist in his defense.
Wages was finally sent to the hospital in Steilacoom, Wash., on Monday, Wahkiakum Prosecuting Attorney Dan Bigelow said. It was two days after he had turned 55, according to court documents, and 110 days since he’d first been booked into jail.
He now has 90 days to receive treatment, Bigelow said.
In an interview prior to Wages receiving a spot at the hospital, Bigelow said Wages’ long wait for a bed was not unusual.
“Based on my recent experience, this is no longer than we might have expected,” Bigelow said. “Things take this long. I am joined with the defense in wishing they didn’t.”
At the Cowlitz County Jail, average waits for admission to competency restoration at Western State hover at about 100 days, while some inmates last year waited around four months to receive a bed, according to Cowlitz County Corrections Department Director Marin Fox.
Two Cowlitz inmates currently awaiting beds at Western State have waited 80 and 59 days, respectively.
“The very real effect is most prominent with the most severe cases,” Fox said. “We have a handful (of inmates) that are very, very actively mentally ill and are refusing medication. We can’t make people take medication. They’re deteriorating. Their mental and physical health is getting worse.”
The jail can request to move inmates who present a danger to themselves up the waiting list, Fox said. Those inmates with more serious concerns need forced medication just to begin treatment, she said, which has to happen at Western State, and there’s not much they can do in the meantime besides wait.
And that wait is grueling.
“I think it’s a challenge, having people in segregation for so long,” Fox said. “It’s difficult to accomplish with someone who’s really actively schizophrenic and non-cooperative. I don’t think it’s gonna be answered at county jail.”
Western State has faced its own problems in recent years. In June, it was de-certified and lost $53 million dollars in federal funding after failing an inspection related to suicide risk posed by fire safety equipment.
An Associated Press investigation on July 6 quoted the daughter of a patient at the 850-bed facility who said entering Western State “was like going into hell” and said her mother “was treated like an animal.”
The hospital submitted a plan Monday to increase patient safety and improve mental illness treatments.