King County Executive bolsters behavioral health access with new, multi-level proposal

Sep 26, 2022, 2:18 PM | Updated: 4:34 pm
Coronavirus, Dow Constantine...
King County Executive Dow Constantine announced a new behavioral health crisis response plan as part of his two-year budget proposal. (King County TV)
(King County TV)

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced Monday a new behavioral health crisis response plan as part of his two-year budget proposal.

The proposal includes creating a network of five crisis care centers, investing in the recruitment and retention of the community behavioral health workforce, and restoring the number of residential treatment beds in the region.

The five new regional crisis care centers are currently designed to be distributed geographically across the county, with walk-in access and the potential for short-term stays to help people stabilize depending on needs, with one center specifically serving youth.

Constantine announced the plan will be funded by a nine-year property tax levy, costing the owner of a median-value home about $121 in 2024. The levy would continue through 2032, generating $1.25 billion to stabilize and strengthen King County’s behavioral health crisis care system.

If the King County Council approves, the plan will be submitted to voters in April 2023.

“The health of our communities depends on the ability of every person to live a safe and productive life, and starts with knowing that when you call for help, it will be there,” said Executive Constantine. “To deliver genuine community safety and uphold our highest values, we must invest in the programming and workforce that will both stop immediate harm and get to root causes to prevent future offenses.”

Last month, Constantine announced that a coalition of local agencies and service providers are beginning to devise solutions to behavioral health problems, including goals of expanding behavioral health, restoring jail services, identifying youth detention replacements, and seeking alternative options for the Seattle jail.

“For many years now, law enforcement has been the primary responder for people in a behavioral health crisis. I’m excited that the proposed behavioral health levy will bring urgently needed resources to work alongside first responders,” King County Sheriff Patti Cole-Tindall said in response to the announcement. “A well-resourced and well-functioning behavioral health system is a vital component of an effective public safety system.

“When there are more places for people to go to receive timely, life-saving care from mental health professionals, and we have expanded behavioral health outreach, we will begin to address the unmet behavioral health needs in our communities,” Cole-Tindall continued. “At the same time, we can increase the effectiveness of law enforcement, allowing officers to respond to higher priority public safety incidents.”

Another measure in the plan is to restore the loss of residential treatment beds. Over the past four years, beds that provide community-based residential care for people with mental health residential needs have dropped by 111. Only 244 of these beds are currently available.

The proposal will also create career pathways through apprenticeship programming, invest in equitable wages for the workforce at crisis care centers, and use initial proceeds to quickly create mobile or site-based crisis behavioral health services that can operate until the first crisis care centers open.

Additional behavioral health investments will be announced on Tuesday.

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King County Executive bolsters behavioral health access with new, multi-level proposal