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Lawmakers push for new Arizona State Hospital governing board after previous bills failed

A bill to establish a new governing board to oversee the Arizona State Hospital received bipartisan support at the state Legislature, but similar bills have stalled out at the Capitol over the past few years.

The state hospital, which cares for Arizonans with severe mental illnesses who were ordered by a court to seek treatment, has faced criticism for problems with patient safety, transparency and staffing issues.

The bill would transfer oversight of the hospital from the Arizona Department of Health Services to a five-member board appointed by the governor. 

“I think we need to get the Arizona State Hospital stronger, and I believe the best way to do that is to pull it out and put the light on it,” said Sen. David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), who sponsored Senate Bill 1688.

'Conflict of interest '

Former ADHS Director Will Humble, who is now executive director for the Arizona Public Health Association, said the current setup created an obvious conflict of interest.

“Arizona Department of Health Services is both running and regulating the Arizona State Hospital,” Humble said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that you should not be regulating yourself.”

Critics like Humble have called for the creation of an independent body to oversee the facility. 

He said that change won’t guarantee that regulatory issues at the hospital will improve.

“But it certainly removes the conflict of interest that, in my view, has been impeding honest regulations over the years,” Humble said. 

Governor vs. state Senate approval

A similar proposal failed last year after the governing board provision was stripped from the legislation over concerns that Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs would veto it.

A spokesman for Hobbs would not say if she supports Gowan’s bill.

“The governor would like to see non-political oversight over ASH and is committed [to] continuing to work with legislators and stakeholders to deliver just that,” spokesman Christian Slater said.

Gowan’s bill would require that all appointees to the new governing board receive approval from the Arizona Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans who have used that same approval authority to criticize — and occasionally shoot down — other Hobbs’ nominees to run state agencies.

Hobbs accused Republicans of weaponizing the confirmation process before pulling all of her remaining nominees from Senate consideration. She then circumvented the process by reclassifying her unconfirmed department directors as deputy executive directors, a new position that does not technically require Senate approval.

That led Senate President Warren Petersen (R-Gilbert) to sue the governor, alleging the workaround violated state law. 

The new state hospital bill, if passed, would set the governor on another collision course with Republicans in the state Senate — unless Democrats manage to take control of the chamber in the upcoming November elections.

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Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.