King County highlights mental health successes

June 7, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

King County used dollars set aside for mental-health programs to serve more than 27,000 people last year — a jump from 19,000 in 2009.

County Council members received the information May 9 in a report about the Mental Illness and Drug Dependency sales tax, a revenue source for mental health and criminal justice programs.

The report also indicated a 23 percent reduction in jail bookings among mental-health clients and a 23 percent reduction in jail days between Oct. 1, 2009, and Sept. 30, 2010. In the same period, psychiatric hospitalizations decreased by 19 percent for clients included in the sample.

“I sponsored the legislation authorizing the MIDD in 2007 because the costs of our jail being a de-facto mental institution were unacceptable and because I knew we could do better,” Councilman Bob Ferguson, the council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee chairman, said in a statement.

In 2005, state legislators authorized counties to implement a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax to support chemical dependency or mental-health treatment services. King County Council members authorized the tax in a 2007 decision.

The tax generated about $41 million last year. The county uses the dollars to fund efforts such as Mental Health Court — a groundbreaking program to place defendants in treatment for mental illness. Mental Health Court expanded to the Issaquah Courthouse last summer.

“This investment is transforming our system to a more humane model for treating those suffering from mental illness and chemical dependency,” Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, the council’s Law, Justice, Health and Human Services Committee vice chairwoman and the Issaquah representative, said in a statement. “The report shows that funding these strategies that focus on recovery is working, and it is saving significant money in our criminal justice system while also reducing recidivism and positively changing lives.”

In addition, the council proclaimed May as Mental Health Month to raise awareness about mental health issues and treatment options.

“Even with our society’s many technological and medical breakthroughs, there remains significant misunderstandings regarding the nature of mental illness,” David Stone, CEO of Sound Mental Health, King County’s largest mental health services provider, said in a statement. “I appreciate what the council has done to address these issues and its continued commitment to raising awareness of mental health and recovery in our community.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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