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King County, Seattle, state leaders launch coalition to plan behavioral healthcare network

Leaders say thousands of people in King County need behavioral healthcare- but right now, there is nowhere they can simply walk in and get it.

SEATTLE — King County is facing a behavioral healthcare crisis, according to city, county and state leaders. 

Thousands of people need care, and there's nowhere they can simply walk in and get it. 

Thursday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell joined other local leaders and partners to announce the launch of a coalition to address several pressing behavioral healthcare needs. 

Specifically, Constantine noted goals to build a regional network of care centers, prevent current residential care centers from closing, and grow a sustainable workforce for care.

"There is not a single behavioral healthcare walk-in facility in King County," Constantine said. "The only options are overburdened emergency rooms and very often, jail, [which] we cannot accept."

Naomi Morris, a nurse with the Downtown Emergency Service Center's PACT Team and a member of SEIU 1199NW, a healthcare workers union, says change is needed not just to build more facilities- but to support staff already employed.

"We can't just expand it, we have to fix what is broken, and if I'm being honest with you, I'm part of what's broken, and [so is] every other behavioral health worker, because the system has put us in an impossible situation," Morris said. "We are working with caseloads that are impossible to perform on."

King County says currently, only one 46-bed behavioral health crisis facility is in operation for the entire county, and residential treatment beds are on a steady decline. The county says in 2018, 355 beds for mental health residential care existed, but today, only 244 beds are available. In 2022, people in King County wait an average of 44 days for a mental health residential bed, according to County data.

Constantine says the goal is to roll out the coalition's plans at the time of his budget proposal. 

    

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