Aberdeen, Hoquiam, Cosi team to hire ‘behavioral health navigator’

Police departments in Aberdeen, Cosmopolis and Hoquiam teamed up to hire a behavioral health navigator, a law enforcement official said Monday.

The arrangement between the cities to hire a navigator is in response to police reform legislation, as well as the ongoing and growing burden of mental health and addiction related calls on local emergency responders.

According to a report to the Hoquiam City Council given by Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Meyers on Monday, the three agencies will “incorporate a mental health professional into the police departments’ mental health field response planning and services.”

The navigator will help the three departments “improve not only the initial field response to persons suffering from behavioral health challenges, but will also help coordinate and improve services to patients amongst the existing behavioral and substance abuse providers within the local region,” said Myers.

Numbers provided by Myers show the value of such a person working with local responders, including Grays Harbor County’s lowly health ranking within Washington, 37th out of 39th. The county also experienced an overall suicide rate more than 25% higher than the state average between 2013 and 2017.

Meyers said the need for increased services in the county is clear.

“For health care access, Grays Harbor also ranks below the state on all seven health care access measures developed and reported in 2020 by County Health Rankings,” said Myers.

He added, “Starting earlier this year, (Harbor Regional Health Community Hospital) in Aberdeen started going on ‘divert’ status for psychiatric patients due to low staffing levels and the impact to services in the Emergency Department.

“This has placed a huge burden on law enforcement and EMS as the hospital’s action derails the first part of the Involuntary Treatment Act (ITA) process and requires transport of ITA detainees out of the area or out of the county to receive medical clearance.”

ITA outreaches are higher than the rest of the Great Rivers Behavioral Health Region, serving a total of five counties, said Myers, but this county’s ITA detentions are lower than the rest of the region. The state average is around 50%, Grays Harbor County averages 26%.

“This gap leaves persons in crisis back out on the street,” he said.

The new position will fulfill a requirement for law enforcement to provide diversion or treatment options to those in distress.

Filling the position won’t be easy. The three cities applied for a grant to fund the position, and one of the grant requirements is that the navigator have a master’s degree.

Myers is hoping they can find a qualified candidate, who is local and familiar with the behavioral health care system in the region and “can navigate all the different systems in place and connect people with the services they need.”

The navigator will not be doing case work or counseling, rather, they will “navigate the changing landscape in recognizing and incorporating the current and new state laws regarding diversion from incarceration and providing treatment options” in behavioral health situations, said Myers.

The navigator would be an employee of the city of Hoquiam, but would also work with all three cities’ police departments, as well as with their fire and EMS departments, serving a population of more than 27,000 people.

To pay for the position, Myers applied for a Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs grant. While not yet official, he believes that the city is in good shape to get it. It’s a one-year grant, but Myers said there are already dedicated state funds for a second year of support.

“I want to thank our chief and the others involved … to get this really valuable resource out there to serve their communities, and finding a funding source, even better,” said Hoquiam City Councilman Steven Puvogel.

The City Council unanimously approved the job description provided by Myers.