PORT ANGELES — Through the Rediscovery Program, a social worker who has been embedded with the Port Angeles Police Department for two years has worked to connect people on the streets with resources that could help them avoid the court system and expensive medical services.
During that time, social worker Amy Miller has built an impossible case load as she works closely with PAPD Officer Jackson VanDusen to help people address substance use disorders and behavioral health issues, both of which lead to increased calls to police and paramedics. With about 127 cases and limited funding, follow-up has been difficult.
“[Cases] weren’t being managed,” Miller said earlier this month shortly after she and VanDussen responded to an overdose. “They were being seen when we ran into them. If they had phones I could do reminders … but many were still falling through.”
Now the program is getting the funding boost it needed. The Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) recently awarded the Port Angeles Police Department a $367,031 grant to fund an expanded program through June 2021. That’s in addition to an $84,400 grant for field response that automatically renewed this year.
Olympia Police Department was the only other department in the state to receive a grant.
“When we first received funds to start the Rediscovery program, our goal was to provide far more than field response,” said Scott Brandon, executive director of Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic — formerly known as Volunteers in Medicine of the Olympics — which runs Rediscovery.
“The program is most effective when field response is coupled with a robust case management team that can provide ongoing support for participants,” he said.
“This grant provides the funds to create that case management team, rounding out our program and better serving the participants and community as a whole.”
That extra $367,031 has allowed Olympic Peninsula Community Clinic (OPCC) to hire three new people.
Nicole Leffel, Amber Tatarek and Viola Ware will focus on outreach navigation, outreach and light-touch case management and long-term case management respectively. Miller, who is now the program director, said a fourth will be hired soon.
“We are all interacting with a lot of the same folks during the same time, but we try to keep some job descriptions in mind,” Miller said. “We’re all sort of doing it all.”
The Port Angeles City Council approved the grant on its consent agenda on April 21, as the city was losing its ability to have in-person meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The grant provides $22,000 for PAPD staff salary and benefits, $15,000 for equipment and supplies, $18,000 for travel and training and $327,031 for the contact with OPCC.
“WASPC awarded us about $100,000 more than we asked for,” said PAPD Chief Brian Smith. “We would have been happy to get what we asked for, but then they gave us more money and they wanted [the program] to start yesterday.”
The goal of the grant, according to WASPC, is to reduce arrests, increase access to and use of non-emergency community behavioral health services, reduce use of emergency services, increase resilience and stability for clients served and to reduce costs for the justice system.
“If people need to be arrested, they are still being arrested,” Miller said. “We’re not diverting criminal behavior into social services, but we are offering an opportunity for folks who might have multiple interactions with law enforcement to engage in services that might prevent or minimize those behaviors.”
What the grant funds is an Arrest and Jail Alternative program that is separate from the street outreach and field response Rediscovery had already been doing. This allows Rediscovery to manage cases long term, rather than limiting interactions with people while they are in crisis.
“In order to qualify for the program, a person would have to commit or be at risk of committing a divertible offense,” Brandon said.
“Our rediscovery team steps in and works with those people that are effectively in a diversion program to help provide services and aids to help them make progress and avoid arrest and jail.”
Those “divertible offenses” are crimes or behavioral issues that would not typically result in arrest, such as some trespassing, disorderly conduct and public intoxication.
“It’s not necessarily a program for anyone who commits a divertible offense, but for people who engage in those behaviors because of a behavioral health issue or concern, or suspected behavioral health issue or concern,” Miller said.
Ware, who previously conducted street outreach with PAPD while working at Serenity House of Clallam County, said one of the benefits of the screening process is that it allows Rediscovery to bring doctors to program participants, which had been difficult before due to legal limitations.
“It’s a very powerful tool to be able to go out and talk to people when you run into someone with medical issues and say, ‘can I come back tomorrow with a doctor?’ “ Ware said. “It’s something we didn’t have a couple years ago.”
Dr. Michael Salyer, medical clinic manager for OPCC, spends some of his time working with Rediscovery, providing medical services at Serenity House’s overnight shelter and meeting with clients at camps.
Rediscovery also partners with Port Angeles Fire Department’s community paramedic, Daniel Montana, who works with police and social workers to help people avoid using emergency services.
“There’s no program that I’ve run into that’s anything like what Port Angeles has,” Montana said, emphasizing the various partnerships allow people to get help when they need it and are willing to accept it.
“Catching them at the right time, where they need help and are willing to accept that help is tough,” he said. “We get stuff done for people.”
Jesse Major is a former Peninsula Daily News reporter now working as a free-lance writer and photographer.