Access to mental health services (Volk decision)

Access To Mental Health Services

Protect patients’ access to mental health care by ensuring that new foreseeability standards do not result in practice changes that limit this access to care.

A year ago, the Washington State Supreme Court issued a 6-3 decision in Volk v. DeMeerleer that changed the standard for “duty to warn” previously established in Washington state 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.

The intent of this legislation is return to the standard established before the Volk decision: to require that a mental health professional providing mental health services to a patient has a duty to warn about a patient's violent behavior only if the patient has made an actual threat of physical violence against an identifiable victim.

This bill would ensure that mental health professionals do not change their practice, resulting in either a chilling effect on the willingness to treat severely mentally ill patients or an increase in involuntary treatment commitments.

SB 5800: Volk decision

WSNA supports mental health access legislation that:

  • Requires a mental health professional to warn an identifiable victim of her patient’s violent behavior
  • Does not require a mental health professional to warn all potential victims of her patient’s violent behavio

Summary of the Volk v. DeMeerleer Case

More Information and resources

Read an Op-Ed in The New York Times on the Volk case: Protect Doctor-Patient Confidentiality.