Needy agencies get mental health funds

Staff writerNovember 1, 2013 

A law kicking in next July in Washington will make it easier to detain potentially dangerous people for mental health treatment — increasing demand for already stretched services. State lawmakers this year added money to handle the extra strain.

Now state government is handing out the money around the state, with the biggest single share paying for a new treatment facility in Pierce County.

The Department of Social and Health Services plans to announce Friday it is handing out $23 million to the regional networks that administer mental health services.

In some places, the money will add space to handle what a study has estimated could be thousands of new mental health commitments.

In other places, it will pay for programs meant to keep people’s conditions from worsening enough to require detention in the first place. In King County, for example, one plan is to expand the use of “crisis teams,” traveling groups of mental health professionals.

An involuntary commitment now often requires an immediate threat or danger, but the new standards allow more consideration of a patient’s past behavior in making that decision. The Legislature changed the standards in 2010, then postponed implementation amid budget cuts. It decided this year to speed up implementation.

In Pierce County, OptumHealth, the only county regional network run by a private company, will receive $4.9 million for a 16-bed facility for mental evaluations and short-term commitments.

Cheri Dolezal, executive director of OptumHealth Pierce, said the center would be operated by MDC — Making a Difference in Community, formerly Metropolitan Development Council — at the group’s headquarters on Fawcett Avenue.

Dolezal said despite the new law, she thinks Pierce County can avoid a big surge in the number of commitments. If that scenario pans out, the new facility would instead create more room for people who would already be in the system but are “boarded” or warehoused in hospital emergency rooms while waiting.

“We hope that will reduce the boarding. The boarding is happening because there’s no place for them to go,” Dolezal said.

Another $2.3 million will go to the regional network in Thurston and Mason counties for what DSHS refers to as “crisis stabilization/diversion center.” Details of the plan weren’t available Thursday evening. Similar facilities are in the works in several other counties.

The Thurston-Mason and Pierce agencies also have requests pending for a share of money slated for mental health services by the state’s capital-construction budget, DSHS said.

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