Politics & Government

Tacoma hospitals asking city for $1.5 million contribution toward new psychiatric facility

MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health System are proposing to build and jointly run a $41 million psychiatric hospital at the Allenmore campus on South 19th Street.
MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health System are proposing to build and jointly run a $41 million psychiatric hospital at the Allenmore campus on South 19th Street. Staff file, 2013

A Pierce County health care partnership that wants to build a $41 million psychiatric hospital in Tacoma is asking local governments to help foot its construction bill.

Representatives from the Alliance for South Sound Health on Tuesday asked the Tacoma City Council to consider putting $1.5 million toward a 120-bed psychiatric hospital backed by Pierce County’s two largest health care providers.

They anticipate also requesting about $1.5 million from Pierce County, while asking smaller cities for contributions, too. So far, Auburn has agreed to chip in $400,000.

The alliance, a partnership linking MultiCare Health System and CHI Franciscan Health System, won approval from the state in January to move forward with its proposal.

Now it’s raising money for construction with a goal to open the facility in 2018 at MultiCare’s Allenmore campus on South 19th Street.

Alliance supporters have counted on contributions from local and state government since they began developing their proposal. They aim to reduce a shortage of beds in Pierce County hospitals for people with mental health conditions, a crisis that they say drains law enforcement resources and strains families.

Pierce County has about 2.8 psychiatric beds per 100,000 residents; King County has 27.1.

“We’ve seen a real uptick in people who really do not belong on the street. They just don’t belong in the community, and there’s no place to put them,” said Denny Hunthausen of Catholic Community Services, who supports the alliance’s plan.

Tacoma City Council members heard the request during a meeting at which they discussed a budget outlook that projects a $6.7 million deficit over the next two years.

Several of them spoke in a way that suggested they want to try to fulfill the alliance’s request.

“This is an opportunity for us to care about the least of them in our community and ensure that their needs are met,” Councilwoman Victoria Woodards said.

They added that supporting the hospital could reduce spending on law enforcement and emergency services.

“Focusing on human services and taking care of the most vulnerable is a smart economic investment,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said.

It’s not clear where the council would find money to fund a share of the hospital’s construction.

Councilman Joe Lonergan suggested the city look at taking money from a mental health reserve account that is funded by a .01 percent mental health tax. That money normally goes to nonprofits that provide mental health programs.

“This is certainly another ask of our resources, but it’s a very worthy ask,” Lonergan said.

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646, @TNTMilitary

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