PORT ANGELES — North Olympic Healthcare Network has secured a $3.3 million grant to help improve behavioral health and primary care services for youth and adults in Port Angeles.
The three-year grant from the United Health Foundation will pay for a mobile medical unit that will move around the Port Angeles School District to provide behavioral health and other services to students of all ages.
The grant also will be used to help expand the Port Angeles Fire Department’s Community Paramedicine program, which works to connect frequent users of the 9-1-1 system to primary care and other needed services.
“We really do think that this will help us address some critical behavioral health needs in our students much earlier and more effectively by removing those access barriers,” said Dr. Michael Maxwell, North Olympic Healthcare Network (NOHN) CEO, in a Thursday interview.
“At the same time, we’ll be able to get out to our more vulnerable neighbors who struggle with behavioral or medical conditions that are heading to the ER more often than they should be.
“We’re really grateful for UHF’s partnership and support of this project,” Maxwell added.
“We’re really excited to see what we can do.”
The 39-foot mobile medical unit is expected to arrive in Port Angeles in September as the 2021-22 school year begins.
Maxwell said he recently visited the construction site in Portland.
“It looks like a really big Winnebago,” Maxwell said.
“We can do medical, behavioral and dental screenings.
“We’ll just drive it from school to school.”
The mobile medical unit will expand NOHN’s footprint in the school district, where NOHN has provided on-site medical and behavioral health services for high school students since 2017. Education will be offered to students and parents.
“What we’ve learned is that the need expanded far beyond the high school,” Maxwell said.
The Port Angeles School District has a family navigator who works closely with teachers to identify students who have medical or behavioral health issues that are interfering with their educational success, Maxwell said.
“We wanted to do something with these grant funds to help fund the expansion of that navigator staff,” Maxwell said.
“And at the same time, we’ve beefed up our behavioral health staff to provide more one-on-one counseling services for students and parents on site at the schools where the students are.”
Maxwell said the grant will add staffing for the Port Angeles Fire Department’s Community Paramedicine program.
Community Paramedicine has had “positive, profound impact” since the city launched the pilot project in 2019, he said.
“We really wanted to find a way to help expand it,” Maxwell said.
Port Angeles Fire Chief Ken Dubuc said two full-time Community Paramedics were added as a result of the three-year grant.
“We are extremely grateful to NOHN for their consideration of our program when they submitted their grant application,” Dubuc said in a Friday email.
“I can say, with full confidence, that the addition of these two Community Paramedics is going to have a huge beneficial impact on the community.”
Community Paramedicine has demonstrated considerable cost savings in reduced 9-1-1 calls, emergency room visits and incarcerations while providing tangible health care improvements for the undeserved, Dubuc said.
It played a vital role in the administration of COVID-19 tests and vaccinations and has improved the lives of many community residents, proponents say.
“When we started our Community Paramedicine program as a pilot back in 2019, NOHN was one of our first and most ardent supporters,” Dubuc said.
“Since then, the support we have received from NOHN has grown and, through our collaborative efforts, we have seen very real, very tangible health care improvements for folks in the community who have been undeserved.”
United Health Foundation is the philanthropic foundation of UnitedHealth Group, which is “committed to expanding access to care, improving health care affordability, enhancing the health care experience and achieving better health outcomes,” according to a press release.
A recent Washington State Primary Care Needs Assessment found that rural counties like Clallam have fewer health care resources than their urban neighbors.
“Mental health has been an increasing concern for adults and children in Washington, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue,” said Sue Birch, Washington Health Care Authority director, in the press release.
“Through this partnership, members of the Port Angeles community will have better access to the care and resources they need.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected]