By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
MEDICAL LAKE — The state has quietly resumed some field trips for mental health patients, months after a patient who killed a woman in 1987 escaped during an outing and prompted suspension of the program, a state official said Wednesday.
The Department of Social and Health Services in January adopted new rules to allow the trips to resume, with the rules now dictating that no more than four patients can go on field trips at one time, agency director Susan Dreyfus said.
Those trips must have a therapeutic benefit, adequate staff must be along and local law enforcement must be alerted, she said.
Phillip Arnold Paul escaped during an outing for 31 patients at the Spokane Interstate Fair last September. He was recaptured three days later without incident in central Washington.
“We will never go back to larger groups,” Dreyfus said during a news conference at Eastern State Hospital, where Paul had been living on and off since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity in the slaying of a Sunnyside woman in 1987.
All field trips for mental patients at Eastern State and Western State hospitals were suspended immediately after Paul’s escape, and there was widespread criticism of the trips from politicians and the public.
The DSHS revamped its procedures regarding field trips, which are considered important in helping ease a mental patient back into society.
Dreyfus said the reforms included detailed assessments of a patient’s escape risk; better training for staff on alerting authorities to an escape; a search of patients’ backpacks when they leave or return from a trip; and notification of local law enforcement about an upcoming trip. A field trip also requires the approval of the hospital chief executive.
Paul was gone for an hour before 911 was called, and he had packed his belongings in a backpack when he left the hospital.
Since the new rules were adopted in January, individual patients who had been civilly committed to Eastern State have been allowed to leave campus for trips.
There have been no group outings, and no patients who are incarcerated for crimes have been allowed to leave Eastern State, DSHS spokesman John Wiley said.
The agency was not immediately able to provide information on any outings from Western State, near Tacoma.
After Paul’s escape, a state investigation revealed that there were too few staff on the trip to the fair, and that numerous rules were violated by management and staff at Eastern State. The head of the hospital resigned.
Seven employees of Eastern State were disciplined as a result of the escape, said DSHS Mental Health Systems Director Richard Kellogg. None were fired, but the punishments ranged from a demotion to suspensions and reprimands.
Escapes from state mental hospitals are extremely rare, according to DSHS. Since 1999, there have been only four escapes from Eastern State, and only one from Western State, the agency said.
Diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, Paul was committed for the 1987 strangling and slashing of 78-year-old Ruth Mottley in Sunnyside. Paul told authorities that voices in his head told him Mottley was a witch who was casting spells on him.