I had to Google it. That’s how long it’s been.
Turns out it was Sept 1, 2015 — more than a year ago.
These were simpler times. Back then, Donald Trump was just a “real estate tycoon” with a penchant for saying unhinged and dangerous things on the campaign trail, while Hillary Clinton was merely an establishment candidate with a soft spot for self-created scandal.
Here in Pierce County, Sept. 1, 2015, is when our elected County Council, after engaging in a spate of predictable partisan ridiculousness the week prior, finally approved a comprehensive audit of the county’s mental health and behavioral health services. The vote was 6-1, with only Jim McCune voting against the measure.
The idea was straightforward. As Kari Plog — who’s not even at the paper any longer — reported for The News Tribune at the time: “The study will try to pinpoint where the mental health system doesn’t work and where improvements can be made. It will seek to quantify how much the county spends to use jails and emergency rooms for treating and housing mentally ill and chemically dependent people, among other things.”
Somewhere, the fine print should have said something about it taking a really long time.
391 As of Tuesday, how many days it’s been since the Pierce County Council approved a comprehensive audit of the county’s mental health and behavioral health services
The good news is that, on Tuesday, the Pierce County Council will finally see the results of the study it called for so many moons ago. The report, which is the work of the Human Services Research Institute, is expected to identify the county’s behavioral health needs, document the available resources, highlight the gaps in these resources and list recommendations for how to move forward and make progress.
Asked Monday why the report has taken so long to complete, Pierce County Councilman Derek Young, who championed the audit along with fellow Democrat Connie Ladenburg, admitted: “I have no idea. And it’s really frustrating.”
Frustrating is one word for it.
But let’s look at the bright side here. At least, on Tuesday, we’ll finally have what we’ve been asking for.
So what will we learn?
At this point, Young says not even council members have seen the study or been briefed on its findings.
Still, spoiler alert: We already know the study will come to many of the same conclusions that behavioral health professionals, first responders, judges and social workers have been kicking and screaming about for some time.
Pierce County — whether it’s visible through addiction, homelessness or untreated mental health issues — is suffering from a behavioral health crisis. The need is great and the resources to deal with these problems are sorely lacking.
“The thing is, that we’ve known all along the basics of what it would say,” Young says of the report. “We just don’t know the scale or the details. There’s really no question as to where some of the gaps in the system are.”
Details, of course, are important. And hopefully this study will go a long way toward filling in some of the blanks — especially for our elected lawmakers, whose job it is start addressing this crisis. After results of the study are released Tuesday, a series of public meetings are scheduled in October to get feedback from the community.
Basically, the council is taking the study on tour.
It’s where they go from here, though, that’s important.
Having the results from the county’s comprehensive audit of mental health and behavioral health system is the first step in a process that’s only leading in one direction — rekindling, and hopefully settling, the debate over whether Pierce County should enact a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to pay for mental health services and programs to reduce homelessness. To do so will require five of the seven members of the County Council.
That’s always where this was headed, and perhaps that’s exactly why some haven’t minded the lengthy wait to get to this point.
This slow-play approach was evident yet again when an ordinance to implement the mental health sales tax, introduced earlier this month, was scheduled for a public hearing …
On Nov. 14.
That’s eight days before the council is expected to vote on the county’s budget. (County Executive Pat McCarthy’s version of the budget, which was released last week, includes the mental health sales tax. Whether the tax will be included in the county budget by the time the dust settles remains to be seen.)
Procedurally, it’s a defensible approach, but it’s also one that belies the seriousness of the problem. I have trouble viewing the delay as a good omen.
“We will eventually pass it. Putting a time frame on it … that’s the hard part,” offers Young, who says “outrage is starting to grow” among Pierce County residents about the continued inaction.
Half joking, I asked Young if this is something I can expect in my lifetime.
“Someday, it’s going to happen,” he assured. “I don’t tend to think that it’s a sustainable position for electeds to just put their fingers in their ears forever.”
I’d like to think he’s right. But recent history doesn’t exactly fill me with optimism.