Outreach programs solve problems to cut arrests, ER visits

Main goal: To improve people’s lives

Dan Montana

Dan Montana

PORT ANGELES — Two city outreach programs that aim to reduce arrests and hospitalizations have improved hundreds of lives, Rediscovery Director Amy Miller and Community Paramedic Daniel Montana said.

The two told the Port Angeles City Council last week that the statistics and human stories demonstrate the field response programs are making a difference.

“We’re after the same goal,” Montana said.

“Although it’s down on paper, that we’re trying to reduce 9-1-1 usage and we’re trying to reduce ER visits and we’re trying to reduce interactions with law enforcement and arrests and all those things, the real goal behind that is to help improve people’s lives.”

Rediscovery, a grant-funded arrest and jail alternatives program that embeds social workers with Port Angeles police, reached out to 472 non-duplicated homeless individuals last year, Miller said.

Of those, 242 went on to receive ongoing support for mental health, chemical dependency, domestic violence, unemployment or other circumstances that led them to be on the streets.

“We’re not just providing socks and hand warmers, although we do that,” Miller told the City Council on March 23.

“We are also working with folks on helping them to develop goals and getting them involved in the services that are available.”

Miller, who worked with police to launch the program in 2016, said Rediscovery made 883 referrals last year, 433 of which became “linkages.”

“A referral is where we are saying to someone: ‘You need this service. … Let’s go through that process together,’ ” Miller said during a slide presentation.

“A linkage is when they (are) successfully engaged in that service.

“We’re pretty good,” Miller added.

“We are well above the industry standard on the percentages of linkages that have resulted from those referrals, as you can see.”

Miller works closely with Port Angeles Police Officer Jackson VanDusen to help people with mental health issues or substance use disorders — or both.

“Our goal is to help people before their circumstances lead to an arrest or hospitalization,” Police Chief Brian Smith said.

The Port Angeles Police Department received a $367,031 grant from the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) in 2020 to fund an expanded Rediscovery program. The grant was in addition to $84,400 that the department received for field response in 2021.

Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic, which runs Rediscovery, helped PAPD apply for the grant and used the money to hire three additional staff for outreach navigation, outreach and light-touch case management and long-term case management.

Olympia is the only other police department in the state with a program like Rediscovery, Smith said.

“The program is designed around the (WASPC) mental health field response and arrest and jail alternative program, which fits in well with our clinic’s mission to improve outcomes for people in the community,” Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic Executive Director Scott Brandon told the City Council.

Brandon said other cities and counties in the state have inquired about Rediscovery.

“What we’ve built out here in the last several years is being used as a model across the state in local and county jurisdictions,” Brandon said.

Community Paramedicine is the younger of the two overlapping Port Angeles field outreach programs. It is focused on improving health outcomes for heavy users of the 9-1-1 system.

Montana, a longtime Port Angeles firefighter/paramedic, was taken off his regular beat in January 2019 to become a dedicated Community Paramedic. He meets regularly with heavy users of the 9-1-1 system, checking vital signs, reviewing medications, assessing general health and living conditions, providing wound care and making referrals for needed services, among other duties.

“It’s not one thing that causes people to have no other recourse but dial 9-1-1, or to go to the emergency room, or become involved with law enforcement,” Montana told the City Council.

“It’s a bunch of different things.”

Montana said a female client who was well-known to law enforcement had been in and out of jail and a state psychiatric hospital before he and a local doctor convinced her to take an injectable medication that reduced her psychotic symptoms.

“Even though this person wouldn’t engage with behavioral health, we were able to get the doctor to follow the treatment plan that had come forth from the hospital in prescribing medication in the form of an injectable,” Montana said.

“More importantly, it turned out that she liked me, so that was good.”

The woman was linked with Rediscovery and has avoided arrest for the past year and a half, Montana said. She found a “super cute” apartment after spending the past decade on the streets, he said.

“It’s maybe an hour out of my month that I go see her and evaluate her and provide information back to the doctor,” Montana said.

“She’s doing great.”

Said Miller: “That individual went from having 80 or more police contacts a month to having her own place.”

VanDusen and Miller were recently called to a report of “white man aggressively waving a machete.”

“We had every expectation that this guy was going to fight,” Miller said.

The contact with Rediscovery ended with a cup of coffee and a ride to Olympic Medical Center to treat the man’s frostbite.

“We spent quite a bit of time doing some rapport-building, helping get him comfortable and kind of building that trust with him so that he might be a little bit more willing to engage with me,” VanDusen said.

“At the end of the day, I was able to get him to willingly come with me and accept a ride to the hospital for an ITA (Involuntary Treatment Act admission) so that we could try and get some of those medical and mental health issues under control.”

________

Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].

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