Mayor Durkan Announces New Investments To Increase Support For First Responders And Expand Medical Services For Vulnerable Communities

From the Office of the Mayor of Seattle:

Anthony Derrick

Seattle  (September 11, 2019) – As part of her 2020 Proposed Budget, Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan today announced new investments to increase support for the City’s first responders and expand medical and treatment services for Seattle’s most vulnerable communities. These investments will help ensure the Seattle Fire Department (SFD) and Seattle Police Department (SPD) can best serve people with behavioral health and substance use issues who may be in crisis.

The Mayor is proposing investments in four key areas to reduce non-emergency calls to 9-1-1 and allow SFD and SPD to respond more quickly and effectively to vulnerable people:

  1. Launch “Health One” downtown in October 2019 and enhance in 2020;
  2. Support SPD’s Crisis Response Unit with four additional mental health professionals, one assigned for each precinct;
  3. Create a dedicated nurse line for homelessness service providers to call for non-emergency medical needs; and
  4. Add dedicated nurses at our largest shelters and three permanent supportive housing buildings that have the highest-volume 9-1-1 calls.

“As our City grows, we have a responsibility to ensure that our ability to deliver emergency and non-emergency responses keeps pace,” said Mayor Durkan. “One area where we have a great need is to better serve some of our most vulnerable neighbors with health care, behavioral health or substance use disorder issues. With these investments, we’re supporting our first responders while ensuring that dedicated and specially trained medical professionals are available to provide treatment. This also allows us to free up critical resources so that our firefighters and police officers can focus on emergency situations.”

The Mayor’s 2020 Proposed Budget invests $400,000 to enhance the Health One program in mid-2020. Health One is a team of specially trained SFD firefighters and civilian specialists that help people with non-emergency 9-1-1 requests for issues like substance use, non-emergency medical issues, and a need to access services. In 2018, 42 percent of SFD’s medical calls were deemed “low acuity”, or non-emergency, calls. These calls dispatched an SFD unit and generally resulted in no action or a non-emergency transport by an ambulance provider to a hospital’s emergency department. 

In May 2019, the Mayor, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins announced the City’s first Health One unit, which will deploy in downtown Seattle in October.

To further ensure the City’s first responders can best serve communities who may be in crisis, the Mayor’s proposed 2020 budget invests $310,000 to fund four mental health professionals to support the SPD’s Crisis Response Unit. This addition would ensure that there is a mental health professional in every precinct and would allow trained specialists to develop deeper relationships with and better serve frequent utilizers of the emergency response system.

“Adding a mobile crisis team pilot program was one of my top priorities during last year’s budget discussions. I’m thrilled this common-sense solution will be expanded in 2020, providing our first responders with new tools when dealing with people in crisis,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7, Pioneer Square to Magnolia). “Health One, coupled with mental health professionals in each Seattle precinct and additional nurses at our high-volume shelters and supportive housing buildings, will not only improve the health of our most vulnerable residents but also save taxpayers’ money as well. These investments will improve the health and safety of our city and is the type of system improvement we need. Many thanks to Mayor Durkan, Fire Chief Scoggins and Police Chief Best for their support and vision.”

“We know the demand is high for addressing low acuity calls in our community. Many of these calls are related to homelessness, mental health, social needs, drug and alcohol use and chronic medical issues,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “The launching of the Health One program will immensely increase our ability to meet the needs of our patients, by connecting them with the appropriate services.”

“We have long known the benefits of embedding mental health providers with our first responders,” said Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best. “These new positions will ensure there is a mental health provider in every precinct, supporting our police officers as they provide public safety services to our community’s most vulnerable members.”

“Seattle Fire Fighters are pleased that Mayor Durkan and Councilmember Bagshaw are leading the way by investing in practical solutions to the crisis on our streets.” says Kenny Stuart, President of the Seattle Fire Fighters Union. “Health One will address low-acuity responses and connect individuals directly with the services they need so that fire fighters can focus on the time-critical, life-threatening emergencies that we are trained and prepared for.”

The Mayor’s proposed budget also re-establishes a dedicated 24/7 “Nurse Line” where low acuity medical issues can be appropriately addressed in a timely and comprehensive manner by nursing staff. The Nurse Line program was designed by SFD and piloted by the Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC) from 2017-2018, and was exclusively for permanent supportive housing providers and shelter staff to call for low acuity medical needs on behalf of their residents and guests.

The DESC pilot proved that a Nurse Line is an effective tool to redirect low acuity calls; during the pilot, fewer than 20% of calls to the Nurse Line were redirected to 9-1-1. With fewer non-emergency calls coming into 9-1-1, emergency responders are better able to respond to immediate issues.

In addition to establishing a Nurse Line for permanent supportive housing and shelter staff, the Mayor is proposing to invest $650,000 to hire dedicated nurses for our largest shelters and three permanent supportive housing sites that are the five high-volume 9-1-1 call locations. SFD data shows that when medical staff are consistently present on-location, there is a significant reduction in low acuity calls for services.

The five locations were determined in partnership with Union Gospel Mission (UGM), DESC, Catholic Community Services (CCS), Healthcare for the Homeless, Harborview, Neighborcare Health, and Public Health – Seattle & King County. These are sites are:

  • DESC Main Shelter
  • UGM Men’s Shelter
  • CCS
  • DESC 1811 Eastlake
  • DESC The Morrison

This expansion in the availability of on-site medical services will allow some of our most vulnerable communities to receive the care and attention they need quicker and more effectively.

“I applaud Mayor Durkan’s expansion of medical and behavioral health access in Seattle’s shelters,” said Human Services Department Director Jason Johnson. “We know from our data that when we provide more holistic support for people through enhanced services, they have better outcomes. With these new investments, emergency workers can respond faster, frontline staff are better supported, and most importantly, vulnerable clients have better access to the services they need.”

“Our entire community benefits when we better address the complicated health care needs of people living with disabilities who experience long-term homelessness,” said Daniel Malone, Executive Director of DESC. “Today’s investment builds on the longtime partnerships between DESC, Neighborcare and Harborview Medical Center, and the successful pilot by the Seattle Fire Department and DESC to bring new approaches to more efficiently care for people with complex conditions. Evidence shows when people have greater access to routine health care, they avoid complications that can land them in local hospitals. I’m grateful to Mayor Durkan for her partnership in investing in the 24/7 Nurse Line and extended nurse services in shelters and supportive housing.”

“People living with the most complex health conditions who experience long-term homelessness rarely receive the right care when and where they need it,” said Washington State Representative and DESC’s Deputy Director for Strategy Nicole Macri. “This creates extraordinary costs in 9-1-1 calls and emergency care. More to the point, the lack of accessible health care results in medical complications and early death. DESC has a long history of building partnerships and providing health care in non-traditional settings for some of our city’s most disabled residents. I’m grateful for the Mayor’s leadership to extend this work by expanding the 24/7 Nurse Line and on-site nursing hours in shelters and supportive housing around the city.”


This press release was produced by the Office of the Mayor of Seattle. The views expressed here are the author’s own.