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Mayor Durkan Joins City Leaders to Announce the Projected Launch of the Third Health One Unit, Extending Primary Service Area to South Seattle

Health One program that helps those with mental/behavioral health or substance abuse disorders and those with non-emergency issues to expand primary service area to South Seattle

Third unit expected to be operational in early 2022, staffed with two firefighter/EMTs and a Human Services Dept. case manager

SEATTLE (Dec. 16) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, Councilmember Herbold, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins, Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Local 27 President Kenny Stuart and Human Services Department (HSD) Director, Tanya Kim announced the launch of a third Health One unit to expand regular service of the program to South Seattle. The third unit is expected to become operational in early 2022 and will primarily serve the Rainier Valley, Mt. Baker, Beacon Hill and Central District neighborhoods, and provide additional coverage to Pioneer Square and West Seattle.  

Similar to the other two units, the third unit will be staffed with two specially trained Seattle Fire Department (SFD) firefighter/EMTs and a case manager from the Human Services Department Aging and Disability Services division. All three of the units have primary emphasis areas but can also respond City-wide to serve people with non-emergency issues like substance abuse or behavioral health/mental disorders, non-emergency medical issues and a need to access services. Health One focuses on providing alternatives to hospitalization and offers referrals to a wide array of services, crisis intervention, as well as alternative transport, such as to shelters or clinics. 

“Seattle has continued to pioneer community safety initiatives like Health One. As we work to reimagine public safety, have expanded civilian public safety alternatives like Health One that sends firefighters and a social worker to 9-1-1 calls. I am happy that we have continued to scale up Health One to serve our entire city, including this new crew serving the South Seattle neighborhood,” said Mayor Jenny A. Durkan. “Our Seattle Fire Department has led the way in serving our community in new ways, and their work is connecting more people to the right resources in our community.” 

With a third Health One unit becoming operational early next year, the City has added capacity to further help meet the demand of those who have a need to access services. In 2020, 50% of those served by Health One were reported to be experiencing homelessness and 95% of all clients are on public insurance or uninsured. The third unit will respond out of a location in the Mt. Baker neighborhood and is expected to operate during weekday hours, staggering its in-service hours with the first two units to increase coverage.  

Health One units are dispatched through SFD’s Fire Alarm Center by calling 9-1-1 and cannot be contacted by members of the public directly. Additionally, the teams that staff the units form relationships with individuals they serve and conduct proactive outreach visits to check clients’ welfare, offer services and connect them with resources. Firefighter/EMTs and paramedics working on other units in the City (aid cars, fire engines, ladder trucks) can also refer patients to the Health One team. Through November, the team received 1,763 internal referrals and accepted 1,147 (65%) of these for direct response or indirect care coordination. 

In 2020, over 37% of SFD’s medical calls were deemed “low acuity” calls, many of which were related to social service needs including homelessness, mental health crises, drug and alcohol use and chronic medical issues. Prior to the launch of the Health One program in late 2019, low acuity 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 2020, only 17% of clients seen by the Health One units resulted in transport to a hospital. The other clients served required on-scene services from Health One, referral to support services or transport to an alternative non-hospital setting (over 11%).  

“The Health One program has proven to safely and effectively provide services to those who need it most, including our unhoused population and those suffering from behavioral/mental health disorders and substance abuse. Firefighter/EMTs and case managers staffing these units have received specialized training and always respond with patience and compassion when interacting with clients. We look forward to launching our third unit into service next year, and expanding our emphasis service area to South Seattle,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins.    

“Ensuring a safety net that allows our most vulnerable and in need to grow up and grow old is critical,” said Tanya Kim, Acting Director of the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD).  “Health One provides a model of mobile integrated care that serves communities most likely to experience disparities in healthcare, social services, and other ways.  Together with Seattle firefighters, our social workers help stabilize and support people at risk of falling through the cracks.  Expanding services like Health One means we succeed in connecting people to resources and solutions during times they are most in need so that they have the opportunity to thrive again.”   

In addition to urgent care, referral and transport resources utilized by the program include primary care, in-home care, next-day appointments, connection with behavioral health organizations, referral to city-contracted homeless outreach providers and shelters, case management with SFD’s High Utilizer and Vulnerable Adult programs and more. In addition to standard emergency medical services equipment, the vehicles are also equipped with outreach supplies including food, beverages and clothing for unsheltered clients.  

“Seattle Fire Fighters are excited that Seattle continues to expand the Health One program, because our City needs to lead with common sense initiatives that prioritize public safety, deliver appropriate services to the people who need them and are effective,” said President Kenny Stuart of the Seattle Fire Fighters Union, Local 27. “Caring for the people of Seattle is our business, our mission and our passion. Meeting people where they are, and providing professional, respectful and culturally competent service to help solve their problems is what we do best.” 

“During a ride-along, I saw how a response of a team of case managers and firefighters was able to better connect an individual with necessary care and services. These low-acuity calls, without Health One, would use scarce resources better focused on emergencies,” said Councilmember Herbold. “This expansion in the spring and again this fall, as funded by the Council, is part of the City’s strategy to reduce reliance on sworn officers. Health One allows us to right-size crisis response so police and fire can refocus time to their core functions and reduce the chance of the combination of an armed police response and individuals in behavioral health crisis leading to tragic outcomes.” 

The City’s Emergency Response Interdepartmental Team, which includes representatives from SFD, HSD, Seattle Police Department and Public Health Seattle-King County, continues to assess how the City can best address the needs of the people who most frequently utilize the City’s emergency response system, and how interventions might mitigate challenges faced by emergency responders when engaging with frequent utilizers of the 911 system. This team will also coordinate with the newly established King County Regional Homeless Authority.