Pierce County has started construction on a new facility aimed to help those grappling with substance abuse and mental illness.
Elected officials, social workers and first responders spoke Wednesday of the long-awaited Parkland-Spanaway facility.
Crisis Recovery Center will be the county’s second crisis center. The first was built in Fife.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” County Executive Bruce Dammeier said. “When a family is in crisis, when they’ve got a loved one who needs help, we’ve got a place where they can get stabilized and get on their way.”
“For many years, we have not afforded people with mental health issues sufficient dignity,” Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor said. “These people deserve more dignity than they have been afforded.”
The 9,600-square-foot facility at 1420 112th St. E. will serve up to 16 patients at a time who might be experiencing a mental health crisis or be addicted to substances.
Patients will be transported by law enforcement, ambulance or family to be stabilized at the facility, according to Pierce County. Stays fluctuate from 48 hours to 14 days. Patients who need continued care will be sent to an inpatient hospital or a treatment facility.
Staffing will include nurses, a mental health professional, discharge coordinators and peer staff with a 1-to-3 staff-to-patient ratio. All employees will be trained in verbal and physical de-escalation, but each patient receives a risk assessment upon arrival. Those deemed a risk to others will not be admitted, according to a Pierce County project handout. Patients with acute medical conditions will be transported to a hospital, not the center.
The center is open to anyone who needs stabilization.
“We know that many homeless individuals suffer from mental illness and substance addictions,” the handout said. “A new crisis care facility will help them and others get the care they need, which for many is the first step toward stable housing.”
The project will cost $6.1 million, with $3.2 million coming from the state, $2.5 million from the Accountable Communities of Health, a $1 million community grant and $500,000 from Pierce County.
Medicaid would fund ongoing operational expenses, Pierce County spokesperson Libby Catalinich said.
Central Pierce Fire & Rescue Chief Dan Olson said fire departments, particularly in central and southern Pierce County, have seen an increase in the number of mental health calls. It can be challenging for first responders to arrive and transport patients from the middle of the county to facilities in the cities.
Many of the mental health or substance abuse responses are from frequent callers, who need help the fire department can’t provide, Olson said.
“Big red isn’t the answer. We are putting people in crisis into emergency rooms full of chaos, and it’s not helpful,” he said. “We are medics. We can help with the trauma, the medical component, but not so much with the more complex issues.”
The Crisis Recovery Center has mirrored Fife’s Recovery Innovations, which started in 2012. In it’s eight years, the 16 beds have served more than 20,000 patients. Fife Police Chief Pete Fisher said there has been a drop in calls for service that coincided with the opening of the facility.
The Parkland-Spanaway center is expected to be completed and open to patients by the end of July 2020.