FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2022
Malora Christensen, Response Systems Division Manager
Whatcom County Health Department Launches New Response Systems Division
BELLINGHAM, WA – On Friday, April 1st, the Whatcom County Health Department officially launched its Response Systems Division, a new division focused on serving people in mental or behavioral health crises and building infrastructure to provide coordinated services. The division will house the GRACE and LEAD programs, formerly administered by Sea Mar Community Health Centers, as well as other initiatives under development.
Created in 2018, the Ground-Level Response and Coordinated Engagement program (GRACE) provides intensive support to people who are frequent users of emergency medical services (EMS), law enforcement (LE), hospital emergency department (ED), and the Whatcom County jail. In 2019, GRACE expanded to include the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which works with people with multiple low-level criminal offenses.
“Some people have complex behavioral health issues that no one agency can address. Our GRACE and LEAD intensive case managers help connect them to a range of services, whether it’s stable housing, food assistance, medical care, treatment for substance abuse, or finding employment,” said Malora Christensen, manager of the Response Systems Division. “The goal of GRACE and LEAD is to improve their long-term well-being while freeing up emergency responders.”
The 13 staffers of GRACE and LEAD serve 180-200 people at any given time, with a waiting list of 75-80 people identified through EMS contacts alone. Services are tailored to the specific needs of members, with each member spending dozens of hours with intensive case managers before they “graduate” from the program.
These programs devote a significant amount of time and resources to members and have proven to be very successful. In 2021, GRACE members’ usage of emergency medical services dropped by 97%, jail bookings dropped by 84%, and emergency department visits dropped by 62%. Additionally, jail bookings of LEAD members dropped by 97%.
“GRACE and LEAD are the first pieces of our new division’s work to fill the gaps in our systems for responding to non-law enforcement calls,” said Erika Lautenbach, director of the Whatcom County Health Department. “Our goal is to integrate behavioral health providers into our community’s response to people in crisis or in need of support. By building the infrastructure that helps our most vulnerable neighbors, we’ll help everyone on the pathway to stability.”
In the coming year, the Response Systems Division will also add:
- Alternative Response Team. The Alternative Response Team (ART) will work closely with the existing Mobile Crisis Outreach Team (MCOT) and WhatComm dispatch, who will be able to send two-person teams of a behavioral health specialist and a public health nurse for calls that don’t need EMS or law enforcement. Using funding allocated by the 2022 state legislature, the program is slated to begin in mid-summer to early fall of 2022.
- Co-responder pilot program with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office. The health department will pilot a program to team up mental health specialists with sheriff’s behavioral health deputies to respond to calls. This program will begin in the late fall of 2022.
In addition, the following existing programs will move from the Human Services division to the new Response Division.
- Crisis Stabilization Center. Opened in January 2021, the Crisis Stabilization Center (CSC) is an overnight, short-term facility for people having a mental health crisis or needing help with withdrawal from alcohol or other drugs. People are admitted voluntarily to both the mental health crisis support (operated by Compass Health) and safe detox programs (operated by Pioneer Human Services). Once admitted, people have 24/7 access to behavioral health and medical staff in a clean, safe, and comforting environment.
- Mental Health Court. Mental Health Court (MHC) is a specialized court where the judge, defense, prosecution, probation counselors, and a mental health clinician all work as a team to improve the lives and outcomes for clients. MHC reduces jail time and repeat interaction with the legal system for individuals with behavioral health needs.
For more information, visit the Response Systems webpage.
View the Response Systems services timeline, a roadmap to the services that will be provided in the coming years.