King County voters on Tuesday, April 25, 2023 voted to approve King County’s Crisis Care Centers Levy, a proposal to create a countywide network of five crisis care centers, restore and expand residential treatment beds, and grow the community behavioral health workforce.

The levy will generate more than $1.2 billion over nine years and will cost the median King County property owner an estimated $119 per year.

The broad coalition who backed the proposal now turns to planning and implementation to expand behavioral health access. 

King County Executive Dow Constantine applauded the approval of the Crisis Care Centers initiative, a nine-year levy that will create a regional network of five Crisis Care Centers, restore and increase mental health residential treatment beds, and invest in the people who do the difficult, important, and historically underpaid work of providing mental health and substance use disorder services.

Building upon the unanimous support of the King County Council and city leaders from across the region, voters’ approval of the levy’s generational investment in places for people in crisis to go will create more capacity in hospitals and create therapeutic alternatives to jail. The Crisis Care Centers levy will begin collections in 2024 and is the most significant local investment in behavioral health facilities in county history.

“King County voters agree – we must build a stronger behavioral health system to meet the urgent and growing need for care,” said Executive Constantine. “With this strong approval, we will chart a path forward to provide the help people need and deserve.” 

In 2021, more than 900 people waited for two days or longer in King County hospitals and emergency rooms because there were no open beds for behavioral health treatment. As of July 2022, people waited an average of 44 days for a mental health residential bed. Nearly one-third of the mental health residential treatment beds in King County have been closed since 2018.

“Passing this levy is a significant step towards providing the residents of King County the mental health crisis services they deserve,” said Kent Mayor Dana Ralph. “Thank you to the voters for recognizing the importance of crisis care centers and voting yes!”

“This levy is an opportunity to make major and sustained investments in the behavioral health system for youth and adults such that those experiencing a mental health emergency in King County can access treatment just as you would if you had a physical health emergency. More importantly, the levy ensures resources to prevent a crisis from occurring in the first place,” said Michelle McDaniel, CEO of Crisis Connections. “I am thrilled to see that King County voters are supportive of this much needed investment in our behavioral health system. I look forward to working with the coalition to start implementing the plan that improves access to immediate, expert, and compassionate behavioral health services.”

Now approved, the Crisis Care Centers levy will: 

  • Create Five Crisis Care Centers: Distributed geographically across the county, the centers will provide walk-in access and the potential for short-term stays to help people stabilize, depending on needs, with one center specifically serving youth.
  • Preserve and Restore Residential Treatment Beds: Slow the loss of residential treatment options that provide behavioral health supportive housing or a psychiatric residential treatment bed for longer-term stays with supports.
  • Invest in the Behavioral Health Workforce: Create career pathways through apprenticeship programming and access to higher education, credentialing, training, and wrap-around supports. It will also invest in equitable wages for the workforce at crisis care centers.

“This is a huge victory for King County. Our communities are in crisis, and we have few options for mental health and addiction recovery services,” said King County Councilmember and sponsor Girmay Zahilay. “The Crisis Care Centers levy will give us a chance to build out our region’s recovery infrastructure so we can give our neighbors more places to go for care and healing. Now it’s time to develop a detailed implementation plan to ensure these centers and services are delivered in the most effective ways possible.”

The Crisis Care Centers initiative aims to create a connected and functioning system that provides people with continuity of care, similar to physical health. A person in crisis can call 988 for resources, access a walk-in clinic, move to mid-level residential treatment if necessary, and interact with expert behavioral health workers through each step. This is part of a strategy to prevent more acute crises and create more pathways for services within the system.

Crisis Care Centers will create same-day access to care for a person in crisis and will help reduce the severity of the crisis. By reducing the use of costly hospital stays and jails, the Crisis Care Centers can instead connect people to available treatment options, and other resources they may need to stabilize after their crisis stay.

Now approved, King County will develop the implementation plan to include further details around creation of the crisis care centers, immediate services prior to their opening, early investments in mental health residential facilities, and strategies to grow the behavioral health workforce. The implementation plan will be proposed by Executive Constantine by the end of 2023 for review and approval by the Metropolitan King County Council.

Since 2007, The B-Town Blog is Burien’s multiple award-winning hyperlocal news/events website dedicated to independent journalism.