5 Things Washington: AI/AN crisis lifeline, 2023 abortion bills, Children’s hospital capacity


Eli Kirshbaum


I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

This week’s newsletter includes information about Washington’s new Native-serving crisis line, reproductive health legislation being prepared in advance of next year’s legislation session, and hospital leaders’ concerns about constrained children’s hospital capacity in the wake of RSV.

In case you haven’t heard, we also have our first conference of 2023 coming up on Jan. 5th at the Westin Seattle! Register now to secure your spot for what is sure to be a valuable, dynamic event.

Thanks for reading!

Eli Kirshbaum
State of Reform


1. Washington becomes first state to operationalize Native-focused crisis line

Washington State’s new crisis lifeline specifically for American Indian and Alaska Native individuals went live on November 10th. The first-in-the-nation Native and Strong Lifeline is part of the state’s 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and will deploy an all-Native staff of 15 people to support members of their community who are undergoing crises.

Rochelle Williams, Tribal Operations Manager for Volunteers of America of Western Washington—the organization operating the lifeline—said this new resource is emerging as part of a larger shift in focus toward Native health. “It can feel like the first people of this land are always thought of last, if at all,” she said. “Not anymore. Our needs will no longer go unnoticed. We will no longer remain invisible, not here, not now, not ever again.”


2. Lawmakers prepare abortion protection legislation as state sees more abortions

State Democratic lawmakers are gearing up to introduce an array of abortion protections during the 2023 session. Among the proposals in legislators’ reproductive health bill package are the creation of a constitutional amendment codifying the right to an abortion, a prohibition on non-healthcare-related organizations to access patients’ health data, and the prevention of healthcare consolidation from restricting patient choice.

This movement to further strengthen abortion protections in the state comes as Washington sees an increase in abortion services—in contrast to the national decrease in abortions over the past few months. Washington performed 5% more abortions in August compared to April, according to a report from the Society of Family Planning. This could be the result of a surge in out-of-state abortion seekers coming to Washington for care.


3. What They’re Watching: Crystal Wong, MD, UW Medicine

In this edition of our “What They’re Watching” series, Crystal Wong, MD, Associate Chief Digital Health Officer at University of Washington Medicine, discussed UW’s efforts to boost its digital footprint. That includes increased development of its direct patient service delivery, telemedicine programs, and virtual care services, she said.

UW is also focused on improving its specialty services, Wong said. “UW Medicine serves the WWAMI region. We’re really known as a very high-quality healthcare system, especially in tertiary referral services. And we need to make that more efficient and more accessible for our communities. It’s just not reasonable to make people have to fly out to Seattle to see a specialist.


4. Affordable housing being developed for individuals with complex needs

Following the passage of House Bills 1866 and 1724 during 2022’s legislative session, the Washington Department of Commerce is preparing to offer affordable housing to unhoused individuals with complex needs. The program will use $60 million in capital funds to create affordable units for extremely low-income individuals with behavioral health needs or other disabling conditions.

“Trying to adapt to those challenges without a roof over your head is hard to recover from,” said the initiative’s Managing Director Melodie Pazolt during a recent stakeholder meeting. “The idea of being able to fulfill the prescription of housing for a person with those needs is what this program is.” Applicants must be at least 18 years old, participate in a medical assistance program, and be eligible for community support services.



5. Pediatric health leaders raise alarm about concerningly low hospital capacity

Increasing statewide cases of RSV in children have wreaked havoc on Washington children’s hospitals in recent months, raising capacity concerns among hospital leadership. Dr. Tony Woodward, Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said earlier this month that children’s hospital ERs are at full capacity almost constantly and can reach up to 300% capacity in the evening.

“We are in crisis mode and bordering, if not in, disaster mode in our emergency departments across the state,” Woodward said. “For people who don’t have an emergent issue there’s a longer wait. I think this is going to go on for a while.” Hospital employees are concerned about not being able to treat all kids who need it; according to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital & Health Network COO Ben Whitworth, one child awaiting a behavioral health visit was on the ED waitlist for 347 days.