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Posted on: October 21, 2014

New proposal would relieve pressure on county mental health system

Pierce County Council Member Stan Flemming says a one-tenth of one percent hike in sales tax in unincorporated areas of the county will help meet the needs of the mentally ill, a population he says is woefully underserved. Flemming announced his proposal today at the County Council’s regular Tuesday afternoon study session.

“We’ve been witnessing the increasing number of individuals with mental illness issues who are being treated in our emergency rooms, jails and other county facilities when what they need is timely, accurate medical treatment that identifies and targets their specific conditions,” said Flemming, who represents the county’s 7th Council District. “I have listened to citizens throughout the county and their stories of how the system has failed them, however I recognize that this is not an issue that can be resolved simply by spending more money on the problem, which is why my proposal includes both an advisory vote of the people in the unincorporated areas of the county as well as buyoff from the state Legislature before any new tax can be implemented.”

Flemming’s proposal calls for individuals who live in unincorporated Pierce County and require mental health services but are not eligible for mental health coverage in their own plans to receive the services they need. It provides assistance for them to enroll in the state-sponsored Exchange health plan. However the individuals would be responsible to pay for those premiums under those health plans. Those who do not qualify for any health plan would be eligible to receive help from the county.

Revenue collected with the increased tax would add staffing to the County Jail to support mental health inmates, fund increasing the recruitment of the number of health professionals at the doctorate and master’s level programs and support training of such professionals in an institution of higher education within Pierce County should these programs ever be established.

Additionally, the measure would create a Mental Health Services Advisory Commission consisting of Pierce County elected officials, representatives from the law enforcement, mental health and medical communities, and individuals representing unincorporated areas of the county. Other cities and towns would have the ability to opt-in.

The state would be responsible for matching funds collected by the tax at 100 percent and enacting a new hospital tax of one-tenth of one percent of admission charges. Collection of those monies would be the responsibility of the state, and passed through to the county, which in-turn would pay for additional mental health beds to be established in local hospitals.

Finally, under the proposal the Legislature would be required to change existing state law by removing the restriction that inmates requiring mental health evaluations receive those exams only in a state mental health facility (such as Western State Hospital), thereby allowing evaluations to be performed within the county jail within 72 hours of incarceration.

“As leery as I am of any suggested tax, I see no better option to deal with this encroaching problem in Pierce County. While under the state constitution this matter remains a state responsibility, the state has yet to fulfill that obligation,” added Flemming, a medical doctor and former U.S. Army brigadier general. “Additionally, I have proposed a three-year sunset clause in the measure to reassure citizens that the county has no intention of continuing the tax increase once the issue has been adequately addressed, unless it is extended by a vote of the people.”

The proposal will be referred to the council’s Public Safety and Human Services Committee, which meets monthly on the second Monday at 1:30 p.m.

Stan Flemming, Pierce County Council District 7
[email protected]

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