Washington on its way to modernizing mental health centers

Right now, Washington State has limited resources for anyone experiencing a mental health episode. In response, both state and local governments are pumping billions into behavioral health care. The goal is to move more patients out of the state’s large psychiatric hospitals into smaller facilities.

Emerald City Enhanced Services launched a behavioral health care facility as an alternative to the overburdened Western State Hospital. Developer, Destry Witt says the long-term care center can care for patients at half the cost of Western State.

“We know there’s a lot of people in Western State Hospital that need to be moved elsewhere,” said Witt.

Emerald City’s Lakewood location, is one of only nine such facilities in the state. Witt says, if all goes as planned there will be a tenth by January. The company has set aside $14 million to transform a Tacoma medical park into a state-of-the-art mental health campus, where recovering addicts or individuals struggling with disorders can stay for up to two years.

“It’s very much residential, but it’s also a medical facility,” said Witt. “What it isn’t is a halfway house.”

Last week, King County voted in favor of funding five new regional crisis centers. Instead of going to a hospital, someone in the midst of a mental health episode could walk into one of these crisis centers, without needing a doctor’s approval or insurance.

Reagan Dunn, a King County councilmember, will be among those deciding what services the crisis centers provide and where they will be located.

“What’s happened is our emergency rooms and mental health facilities have become the only places where law enforcement or family members can deliver somebody in crisis,” said Dunn.

To avoid conflict, Dunn is focused on selecting a site in an industrial area that is away from schools but near transit. Witt says proximity to transit also motivated his selection of the new location in Tacoma.

“We want to be in places where we think the community would be receptive to that,” said Witt. “There are going to be issues that are going to be uncomfortable for neighbors; it’s just the nature of the business.”