Many of you should have received a VoterVoice Alert regarding Senate Bill 5800, which deserves a few minutes of your time to send a pre-written email message to your state senator. On March 1st, thanks to the efforts of our DO Day participants and the timeliness of our VoterVoice blast email, the bill was passed out of Rules to the Senate Floor for consideration by the entire Senate. If you have not yet done so, please participate in our VoterVoice email alert and ask your State Senator to pass SB 5800 out of the Senate.
SB 5800 is in response to the recent Volk v. DeMeerleer Supreme Court decision that will have profound and detrimental impacts on health care providers and patients. The decision is a troubling departure from the standard for "duty to warn" previously established in Washington and nationally. The Court held that, in the outpatient context, the duty of health care providers to warn potential victims of violence extends to all individuals who may "foreseeably" be endangered by a patient who has made a threat, even if no specific target was identified. This leaves providers with unprecedented responsibility to interpret who to warn and potential breakdown of provider-patient confidentiality. Patients may be unwilling to seek treatment or if they do, may not disclose important and dangerous thoughts and urges because their acquaintances may be informed of their private mental health information. Full patient disclosure may be further discouraged by this decision because the chance of involuntary commitment may increase to avoid provider liability.
Consequences of the Volk Decision
Conflicting Legal Obligations: Providers will face conflicting laws because the Volk decision requires disclosures broader than what is permitted by state mental health privacy laws.
The decision is at odds with integrated mental and physical health care. State and federal governments have recognized the importance of merging the physical and mental health treatment of patients. By damaging the provider-patient relationship and increasing liability risks, especially for mental health providers, the vision of contemporaneous care may go unfulfilled.
Increase in involuntary commitments. Any health care provider who witnesses a threat by a patient may have to now consider involuntary commitment rather than violating provider-patient confidentiality or identifying and notifying all individuals who might foreseeably be harmed by the patient.
Vastly expands liability of all health care providers. All health care providers may, at some time, hear a threat made by a patient. Failure to warn the potentially large number of individuals who may be a target of the threat will expose health care providers to third-party lawsuits.
Hinders critical recruitment and retention of qualified behavioral health workers due to expanded liability.
If you did not receive the VoterVoice alert and would like to participate in this campaign, go to www.woma.org and select State Issues under the Advocacy Tab. Choose the first campaign, Urge Yes Vote on SB 5800 by March 8.