The Pierce County Executive reflects on his first two years in office.
As Bruce Dammeier begins his third year as Pierce County executive, he told the KP News his greatest accomplishments relate to strengthening the behavioral health system in Pierce County. “I felt that the system was stuck in a crisis with a system unable to respond appropriately to people in crisis,” he said.
One effort addressing opioid addiction and mental health care is the Mobile Community Intervention Response Team (MCIRT), he said. This is a three-person team capable of responding to the physical and mental health needs of individuals who are in crisis but do not require the level of care, intervention and equipment that paramedics and sheriff’s deputies provide.
The first MCIRT team began operation in the Parkland-Spanaway area Oct. 20, 2018. After a month of work, 94 people had been contacted, 16 percent of whom were frequent 911 callers or so-called “high utilizers.”
Most of the contacts were with people who have severe behavioral health needs and live in isolation or are homeless. This population does not have the personal resources or an emotional support network that they can turn to in crisis, so they call 911, according to Dammeier. The MCIRT team was able to connect many of these people to housing, behavioral and medical care, and case management services.
The MCIRT effort has lowered the cost of 911 responses, Dammeier said. Because of the distances and time involved in emergency contacts in rural areas, such as the Key Peninsula, expansion of MCIRT teams would enhance the ability of local law enforcement and fire departments to respond to residents by lowering their call load. Based on the positive results to date, it is hoped that countywide expansion of the program will be deemed financially feasible in the future, according to Dammeier.
“I felt that the system was stuck in a crisis with a system unable to respond appropriately to people in crisis”
Dammeier also credited council members with fund allocations designed to improve access to health care and mental health services. He listed several projects set to open between 2019 and 2020. A new 120-bed facility located on the Allenmore Hospital campus will have the capacity to treat approximately 5,000 patients annually. A new 16-bed crisis recovery center, located near Franklin Pierce High School, will provide 48-hour to two-week care. According to Dammeier, the center—a replica of one that has operated in Fife for 16 years—will provide a more appropriate placement “when people need help, not jail or hospital.”
Dammeier said another “step forward for residents” was made in 2018, when Pierce County reached an agreement with the state Healthcare Authority (HCA) to integrate physical and behavioral healthcare for Medicaid patients beginning January 2019. Washington state is required by state law to integrate physical and behavioral healthcare by January 2020, at the latest. Pierce County’s agreement with the HCA accelerated that process by one year.
Dammeier also described a newly streamlined procedure for the county to respond to citizen concerns through the Open Pierce County portal at www.openpiercecounty.wa.gov.
As an example of how the system works, Dammeier described recent improvements in code enforcement. Between April 2018 and January 2019, the average time between filing a report about a neglected or nuisance property and resolution was reduced from 119 days to 102 days; by December 2020, the target for resolution is 90 days. The main reason response time has been shortened is because citizens can track the status of their complaints online and less staff time is spent responding to their queries, freeing staff to devote more time to problem resolution.
Dammeier also said that within the next two years he hoped more county services would be available to KP residents, such as restoration of Pierce Transit, expansion of job opportunities in coordination with Pierce County Economic Development, and that there would be enhanced support for residents in crisis and crisis recovery.
Asked if anything had surprised him since taking office, Dammeier immediately responded that he was surprised at the remarkable job the road division had done maintaining the 13,000 miles of county roads. He also said he is against any diversion of funds that would negatively impact road maintenance and improvement, and that addressing the serious congestion on State Route 302 must continue to be a lobbying priority with the state.