Western’s STAR Ward gets high praises from parent of a patient

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The Specialized Treatment, Assessment and Recovery Ward, better known as the STAR Ward, at Western State Hospital opened to patients in early February 2020.

The STAR ward specializes in treatment for patients who are deemed to be the most assaultive at Western and is limited to only 10 people being treated on the ward. On the ward, evidence-based practices allow staff to assess and stabilize patients and address trauma, psychosis, co-occurring substance use disorders and anti-social personality disorder — which are the leading causes for assaultive behavior. The ability for staff to be able to focus and treat a smaller population of patients allows for them to better recognize triggers for patients and how to deescalate situations before things get too out of control.

“One assault is too many,” explained DSHS Behavioral Health Administration Assistant Secretary, Sean Murphy, “and this ward gives us an opportunity to work to ensure that patients receive the treatment they need to recover from their mental illness and that staff are able to keep everyone as safe as possible in a very unpredictable environment.”

The work on this ward is paying off according to a patient’s loved one who wrote the following (please note some references that could identify the patient have been removed):

Dear Western State Hospital;

I would like to write a note regarding my experiences with the Western State Hospital STAR program, and express my enthusiastic support for this new ward at Western State Hospital.

I have a 25-year old son, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 17. He also has severe fetal alcohol syndrome. From the age of 17 on, my dear son has spent years in and out of the “system”, rotating between homelessness, incarceration in county jails for months on end, eventually sent to Western State for an evaluation and then sent back to jail and released on his own recognizance. It has been every mother’s nightmare; not knowing where her child is, whether he is alive, whether he is warm and fed or on the street.

Along with his paranoia comes poor impulse control, and thus attacks on other people and being involved in multiple physical altercations. For eight years, his father and I believed that the system had and would continue to fail him, and that my dear son was a lost soul who would never have the opportunity to find his full potential and live a stable and safe life.

His last transfer to Western State was almost two years ago; thankfully he was retained and not returned to jail and the streets. But he was aggressive and violent, and transferred from ward to ward due to being involved in fights and “not liking the people there”.

Then this year, he was invited to transfer to the STAR ward, a new program as I understand it for the most violent patients who had a pattern of fighting with other patients and staff. His father and I welcomed this transfer. We noted immediately that the staff/patient ratio was much lower than the other wards. He also was assigned two social workers, who contacted us (with his permission) regularly to ask questions about his history and notify us of his progress. He was given a form of cognitive therapy. This was especially useful as he cannot be “therapized” due to his brain damage and illness. He responds only to actions, reinforcements, and training. The entire staff was dedicated to the program, and he received more individual evaluation and attention than ever before.

All of these changes to the standard unit program made a remarkable difference. My son was engaged in zero fights at the STAR ward, even became friends with some of the staff and even some of the patients.

After less than a year in the STAR program, he “graduated” and was released to an outpatient program. To date, he is still in the program, taking his meds and following the rules.

We both so appreciate the wonderful help our son received all of these years at Western State. But the concept and implementation of the STAR program is what turned him around and has given him at least a possibility of living independently in the real world.

I would especially like to thank my son’s two social workers, Jonathan and Anna. They made an above and beyond effort to really get to know our son, and that was instrumental to his growth. Largely due to them and the treatment he received, my son has made strides in trust, in building relationships, and learning better how to function in society. They are both unsung heroes in my book and I am forever grateful to both of them and the STAR program especially. I do hope this wonderful treatment program remains available for other patients as well.


A grateful Mom

These words are so meaningful to Jenise Gogan, Director of Community Transitions, who was responsible for putting together the STAR Ward program.

“This type of feedback is so heartwarming,” explained Gogan. “People can and do recover from mental illness but it is important that the treatment is individualized to help with issues like a patient being assaultive — if they are able to deal with some of the issues that cause them to be assaultive, they have a greater chance of being successful in their recovery.”

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