Seattle launches 2nd FF-EMT/social worker team

The expanding Health One program provides on-scene care to those experiencing mental illness, homelessness and chronic health problems


Daniel Beekman
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — Seattle is expanding a program that sends firefighters with social workers to 911 calls involving people on the streets who need help other than a trip to the hospital.

A second Health One team will launch later this week, allowing the city to expand coverage from downtown and Capitol Hill to the University District and Ballard, Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Council members announced Tuesday.

Each team has a vehicle and comprises two firefighter-emergency medical technicians and one case manager. They respond to non-emergency calls about substance abuse, mental health, medical problems and other issues that don't require an ambulance ride.

Seattle launched its first Health One team in late 2019 to help the Fire Department manage a barrage of such calls and to provide better services to the people involved.

At the time, 42% of the Fire Department's medical calls were non-emergency in nature, and many of those were related to homelessness, mental health, substance use and chronic medical problems, according to the city. In most cases, the calls would result in a ride to the hospital or "no action" by firefighters.

The Health One program is designed to provide people with on-scene care. Whereas firefighters must deal with the call and move on quickly, Health One team members can spend time on an issue. They can provide medical care, connect people with case managers, refer them to homeless shelters and help them schedule appointments. They also can provide people with food, beverages and clothing.

 

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Last year, fewer than 20% of calls handled by the Health One program resulted in hospitalizations, according to the city. More than half of the people served said they were experiencing homelessness, Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said in a news release Tuesday.

The city's 911 dispatchers decide whether a call is appropriate for Health One; members of the public can't call the program directly.

In her proposed 2021 budget, Durkan included $575,000 to add a second Health One team. The council added another $575,000 for a third team, which is supposed to launch later this year.

The first team is based downtown and the second team will be based in Belltown, but both teams will be able to respond citywide.

U District and Ballard will be added to downtown and Capitol Hill as focus areas, but the teams also will be able to respond in South Seattle and Sodo, according to the city. The third team will boost that coverage.

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(c)2021 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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