Jeff Humphrey, Media Manager, 509.625.6308
Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 3:55 p.m.
As early as next year, Spokane first responders could have a new way to help people who run afoul of the law because they might be suffering from mental illness.
If officers arrest someone on a low-level crime, but their behavior is just a symptom of mental or co-occurring issues, police will have the option of taking them to a minimum 16 bed, Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Facility.
“Everybody agrees some people do belong in jail. But, some people don’t and belong in this crisis stabilization center. And these beds are going to make that difference where you can stop that revolving door of putting somebody in jail for 24 hours,” explained City Council President Ben Stuckart.
Stuckart worries booking mentally ill people into jail only delays them getting the treatment they need.
“But, with this stabilization center, we can get somebody on meds. We can get them seen by a professional and then they are in the right atmosphere too,” emphasized Stuckart.
The stabilization facility is intended to help people avoid jail, and subsequently homelessness, often caused or aggravated by unresolved mental health issues.
“Giving them that opportunity that says, if you want to choose to go into this facility you don’t have go into the criminal justice system. We can help you and you can get the help you need in this crisis stabilization facility,” said Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney.
Only individuals suspected of low-level crimes are eligible for diversion to the stabilization program. Their participation is purely voluntary. People not will willing to complete the treatment face jail time and prosecution.
However, there are several incentives for patients to stick with the program.
“When an individual choses treatment at the stabilization facility, if they complete their treatment package, their charge, which has been held, may ultimately be dismissed by the prosecutor over time,” said Ariane Schmidt, Spokane Regional Project Manager.
The stabilization facility, which will take shape in what is now the County Motor Pool Garage, will not be ready to serve patients until late 2020 or early 2021.
In the meantime, mental health professionals are riding with Spokane police officers and sheriff’s deputies in the hopes of connecting people with treatment.
“And it’s a continuum of care that we’re providing and a continuum of stabilization so that we have less problems on the streets,” added Stuckart.
The stabilization facility, which could help people get their lives back on track, can also save taxpayers money in the form of lower jail and hospital costs.
“Once they hit the jail there’s no reimbursement from medical insurance companies. This facility would provide that medical reimbursement. Also, they’re not in our ER system and they don’t have the money to pay, so that’s higher costs for everybody when they’re in the hospital and so it’s keeping those costs down,” Kuney said of the stabilization center.
Funding for the multi-million dollar program is coming from several state agencies and local governments.
For more information on what Spokane County and the City of Spokane are doing to help people suffering from a mental health crisis, visit Spokanecity.org or Spokanecounty.org and search mental health.