Lakewood residents want to know how patients keep escaping from Western State Hospital

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LAKEWOOD, Wash. -- Another patient escaped from Western State Hospital in Lakewood Monday.

Police say the 31-year-old got away while he was in a group of patients being escorted to an outside activity area. They tracked him down and got him back into custody a couple hours later.

But this latest incident is raising concerns about security at the facility.

“Right after I moved here, people started escaping. Really?” asks Christina Hicks, who lives nearby.

Lakewood Police say this afternoon, a patient considered to be gravely disabled and a threat to himself and others got out through an unlocked door.

“They need to hire better security or better maintenance guys, or maybe they need to shut down and send these people to private facilities,” says Hicks.

Police followed tips Monday. They searched the nearby Steilacoom Library, then found the patient on Steilacoom-Dupont Road and took him into custody without incident.

But this isn’t the first time patients have gotten out of Western State. In early April, Anthony Garver and Mark Adams escaped through a window. Police eventually caught them after a statewide manhunt.

The governor fired the hospital’s director after that incident. But state Sen. Mark Miloscia says bigger changes need to be made.

“Still basic safety and security process and procedures are failing,” he says.

Cheryl Strange, the new hospital director, put out a statement, saying in part: “We are in the process of collecting accurate information and will fully debrief this incident once we gather all the details.”

Miloscia knows funding at the facility has been a concern in the past, but he thinks mismanagement is to blame for these recent escapes.

“Yes, they have a shortage of nurses and maybe they have trouble getting psychiatrists on board,” he says. “But this is security guards, for goodness sake.”

Hicks says the hospital might want to re-think taking patients on escorted trips.

“If you're taking grade schoolers on a field trip, you keep track of them. If you can't do what a teacher can do in grade school, maybe you shouldn't be taking people out of the facility.”

According to the Associated Press, 185 patients have escaped or walked away from Western State since 2013.

Q13 News reached out to the governor’s office for comment, but had not heard back Monday night.