Poulsbo behavioral health program continues to benefit from county tax

A portion of the funds gathered by a countywide mental health and substance abuse tax will be going to fund Poulsbo’s Behavioral Health Outreach Program.

A sales tax approved by the county government in 2013 is paying out about $4.1 million to mental health and substance abuse organizations next year. In 2019, some $296,784 will be distributed to Poulsbo’s outreach program, which also serves Bainbridge Island, Bremerton and Port Orchard.

Kimberly Hendrickson is the project manager for the Poulsbo’s Behavioral Health Outreach Program.

“I am just blown away at the progress Kitsap County has made over the last five or so years,” she said.

Hendrickson’s program staffs three behavioral health professionals, called “navigators,” who make contact with individuals following recent interactions with law enforcement. The navigators work to provide information and personalized referrals for patients to services like Kitsap Mental Health and criminal diversion programs.

“Some of the referrals we make are actually to the therapeutic courts in the county,” Hendrickson said. “One of the things that I’m especially excited about is our close relationship with the manager of the drug court, or the behavioral health court. When we can work with attorneys, prosecutors, parents or individuals themselves to figure out how to navigate that process and be considered for one of those slots in a thereapeutic court, that’s another kind of referral that we count as well.”

Between January and October this year, the behavioral health outreach program has assisted 205 individuals in Kitsap County, Hendrickson said. Of those contacted so far, 187 were new contacts with the program. The vast majority of new contacts, she explained, demonstrated behavior consistent with mental illness or a co-occuring substance use disorder. Approximately half of the new contacts in 2018 either didn’t have a treatment provider or were dropped from their treatment provider. One third of the contacts have been arrested or appear to be at risk of arrest, and about another third of them have attempted or threatened suicide.

The project manager saidthe vast majority of contactsmade by law enforcement, which are then referred to the navigators, don’t involve an arrest.

While the $4.1 million set to be distributed in 2019 is higher than the county has ever distributed from the tax before, the amount being given directly to Poulsbo’s Behavioral Health Outreach Program will be less than in the last two years. Despite this fact, Hendrickson said that the cities being served by the outreach program will also be looking to chip in some $120,000 to help keep the program’s three navigators on staff.

About $60,000 is expected to be contributed by the city of Poulsbo. Bainbridge Island’s and Bremerton’s police chiefs have both requested $30,000 each to help fund the program.

“We’re grateful for the county contribution, but for the first time we’re matching it with city contributions, which really indicates the value that cities are finding in what we’re doing,” Hendrickson said. “The council of both those cities will ultimately make that decision, of course, but we’re just super pleased that both city’s chiefs have put that ask in their 2019 budget.”

—Nick Twietmeyer is a reporter with Kitsap News Group. Nick can be reached at ntwietmeyer@soundpublishing.com

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