By Addy Hatch, College of Nursing

Two Coug nurses are at the forefront of a project to shift long-term care of mental illness away from Washington’s two state hospitals into smaller regional facilities.

Clay See, BSN ’12, and Amy Mallonee, BSN ’07, lead the inpatient psychiatric unit at Virginia Mason Memorial in Yakima, which is among the first in the state to participate in the new program. See is nurse manager for that unit, and Mallonee is assistant nurse manager.

The two Washington State University College of Nursing graduates and hospital officials landed a $2 million state grant to build out and re-fit space to accommodate patients staying as long as six months. The current maximum treatment order in the psychiatric unit is 14 days.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced in May his plan to transform the state’s mental health system. His goal is have all patients referred for involuntary treatment through civil courts to be served in smaller community-based facilities by 2023.

Eastern State Hospital, in Medical Lake, and Western State Hospital, in Lakewood, would continue treating patients who are referred for treatment through the criminal justice system.

“We are trying to provide 21st century medical care using a 19th century model of care,” Inslee said in his announcement. “Large institutions were popular in 1918, but in 2018 we know smaller hospitals closer to home are far more effective.”

Virginia Mason Memorial’s grant was part of $39 million in grants announced by the state in July, which will create 341 additional beds statewide.

See said Virginia Mason Memorial will work closely with Comprehensive Healthcare, a private nonprofit behavioral health provider in Yakima, to provide follow-up care for local patients treated in the new unit.

Said Mallonee, “Eastern State Hospital is a three‑hour drive from Yakima. It’s a big barrier for families to be actively involved in patients’ care. This will keep patients closer to family support, and closer to potential discharge placement.”

Virginia Mason Memorial hopes to launch the new service by the end of the year.

See credits part of the psychiatric inpatient unit’s success to his fellow Coug nurses on staff.

“The night shift over here is almost entirely comprised of WSU nursing graduates,” he said. “We are doing really well here, and we are fueling that almost completely with WSU-prepared nurses.”

Said Sandy Carollo, associate dean for academic affairs at the WSU College of Nursing, “The work being done by Clay and Amy — BSN graduates of our Yakima nursing program — are true to the College of Nursing’s mission, vision and values. They stand out as leaders who are transforming healthcare in our state, to the benefit of patients and families.”