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Crisis centers would alleviate overcrowding, shorten wait for those in a mental health crisis

KING 5 spoke to first responders Monday to learn about the demand for crisis care in King County.

KING COUNTY, Wash. — A proposal for crisis care centers took centerstage in a virtual forum Monday night. King County leaders called on voters to approve a levy for creating them.

"Federal and state governments really have not stepped up to this challenge. In many ways, over the course of the last 50 to 60 years (they) have stepped away from it," said King County Executive Dow Constantine about the mental health crisis.

Proposition 1, the Crisis Care Centers Levy, is on the April 25 Special Election ballot.

"There's gonna be five crisis care centers that are gonna be created through your support," said Teresa Mosqueda, Seattle City Councilmember.

But support would mean another yearly tax paid by property owners in King County. For a median-priced homeowner in the county, the levy is estimated to cost about $120 a year starting next year.

So what do those on the front lines think of the need? KING 5 spoke to first responders Monday.

"We've noticed an increase in demand with people that are suffering from mental illness," said Greg Garat, Battalion Chief for Eastside Fire and Rescue. "Really our only option when somebody's having a mental health crisis is the ER right now."

But due to staffing and capacity strains in the ER, he said there are often long wait times than they experienced before.

"An hour or so at some at our hospitals, just because of the demand that's going on in some of our ERs," Garat said.

Firefighters have to stay and wait with the patient in crisis, putting their unit out of service.

"The longer that our units are out of service, the less that they're able to provide for the next 911 call that's able to come in," Garat said.

Meantime, off Rainier Ave South, King County already operates a small crisis center, the Crisis Solutions Center; but it's not a walk-in clinic and only first responders can drop off patients.

"There's definitely not a lot of beds there," said John Rios, an intensive case manager with King County's Downtown Emergency Services. "It is the only facility that we have for all of King County."

There are 2.3 million people in the county and only 46 beds are available at any given time in a single building.

"There usually tends to be a little bit of a waitlist," said Rios. "Having those crisis intervention centers will help us alleviate some of the overcrowding issues we're seeing in all the other places. Not only the Crisis Solutions Center, but also the jail, the ERs."

Garat said that having more crisis centers would allow more firefighters to focus on what they're best at: fighting fires.

"The more tools we have in our toolbox, the better we are to be able to serve the public when they're having an emergency," said Garat.

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