911-alternate response Health One builds momentum with South Seattle arrival

Dec 16, 2021, 2:01 PM
Health One...
Credit Seattle Fire Department via Flickr

A homeless man walks into Fire Station 5 — cold, COVID-positive, and without medicine to treat his diabetes. In an another time, Seattle Fire Department was ill-equipped to assist him. Wednesday, Seattle’s Health One relocated him into a crisis center, providing all new prescriptions for his diabetes and intake for COVID treatment.

Health One is the city’s mobile response team designed to integrate clients who often require emergency attention into long-term, structural resources to best provide requisite care. While traditional firefighters immediately respond to crisis situations, Health One works more deliberately, identifying medical or mental health care, shelter, or other social service solutions to non-emergency situations.

Health One’s third iteration is coming to the Mount Baker neighborhood in early 2022, providing those services to Seattle residents south of Pioneer Square.

“Our unit is a deliberately designed program to serve the most vulnerable, most marginalized, and most underserved population,” Jon Ehrenfeld, program manager with SFD’s mobile, integrated health program, told MyNorthwest.

The services that Ehrenfeld’s team provide are well encapsulated in recent care given to a caller who had fallen in his apartment, unable to stand. Upon emergency dispatch’s arrival, they noticed his apartment was in disarray, posing a variety of hazards and risk to the gentleman. They determined he was no longer able to live by himself.

Health One, over the course of a month, assessed his needs and helped transition him into an assisted living facility, where he now resides.

Ehrenfeld intends for Health One to provide similar resources to the city’s southside. The location at Mount Baker was chosen for a variety of reasons, primary among them the frequency with which emergency services are requested in places like Pioneer Square, Beacon Hill, and Rainier Valley.

He anticipates the crew, which consists of two firefighters and one case manager, will encounter similar problems to that of the other two units, which primarily serve the downtown area but have discretion to service the entire city.

The issue is namely a lack of “receiving locations,” something which refers to treatment facilities other than hospital rooms. That could include anything from emergency shelters and crisis centers to detox facilities.

“We are just really short on them in the city, and it often is extremely difficult for my team on Health One to place people in shelters, clinics with availability,” Ehrenfeld continued.

“Finding places for people that are having behavioral health emergencies who need detox or recovery is a consistent issue that we come upon,” he said. “Frankly, I do anticipate that we will see similar things with future triage events. I know a lot of work is being done on the city, county, or state level, so we’re we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Those resources will come in part with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s recently announced Triage One proposal. Seattle City Council’s 2022 budget allocates $1.9 million in funding for the program, which will serve as adjunct to Seattle Police Department. It’s predicated on a report from the mayor’s office that determined up to 12% of calls SPD received between 2017 and 2019 did not require the attention of an armed officer.

Seattle aims to redirect money from departed SPD officers to ‘alternative’ 911 response efforts

“Not every call to 911 requires an armed response,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold said in a July press event. “The specialized triage response model proposal is both creative thinking and a data-informed innovation, providing a qualified response to folks who require assistance but do not represent a threat.”

The mayor’s office reports that, through November, the Health One team received 1,763 internal referrals and accepted 1,147 (65%) of those for direct response or indirect care coordination.

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911-alternate response Health One builds momentum with South Seattle arrival