Task force aims to reintegrate patients back into the community

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Governor Inslee has announced that he plans to close the civil commitment unit at Western State Hospital, which in turn allows for the release of 89 patients into Pierce County.

He has said, and I agree, that people are better served in their own community instead of a large institution. This is similar to a movement in the ’70s when many behavioral health institutions were closed and large numbers of people were moved into communities for care. Unfortunately, as the State closed/decreased the size of facilities, they did not provide the money needed for this care. Much has changed since the ’70s in types of care and facilities. What hasn’t changed is the need for appropriate funding to care for those facing behavioral health challenges.

I proposed, and the Pierce County Council approved, the formation of a task force to develop a plan that will integrate these 89 patients back into our community. It is not an easy endeavor. The task force has representatives from behavioral health providers, local hospitals, housing providers, the Behavioral Health Organization, Managed Care Organizations (insurance provider), Superior Court, the prosecutor’s office, National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), County Human Services and the County Council.

We had our first meeting this past week. Often with first meetings there is a lot that is put on the table, everything from patients ready to leave Western State but can’t because there is nowhere to send them, to not enough treatment beds in our community, to not enough appropriate staff.

There was consensus on the approach that should be taken. Our response and efforts should be across the spectrum: prevention, intervention, and crisis. So often, in our world today, we focus on the crisis end. Only when someone is in crisis do they receive the treatment and medication they need. Often people are living many years without appropriate care, worsening their condition and making it resistant to care. We know that those that receive early wrap around services and supportive services in the community are the ones that find higher levels of success.

We have more work to do. We will be looking at the data, which includes:

  • the makeup of the patients that will be released
  • what current facilities we have
  • the current service number and capacity of our facilities
  • staffing levels
  • studying what other communities are doing and what best practices

We know that the legislature will be focusing (finally) on these issues this session and likely future sessions. However, we know our own needs and how best to find solutions for our people and our community. It is not uncommon for the legislature to come up with a plan for the State – a one size fits all. It is our hope that we will be able to submit a strategy and work with the legislature to create a solution that is best for Pierce County.

Connie Ladenburg is a member of the Pierce County Council, serving District 4. See her blogs as https://blog.co.pierce.wa.us/connieladenburg.

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