Facilities will offer new behavioral health treatment models for Washingtonians


Shane Ersland


Several new behavioral health treatment facilities are slated to open in Washington over the next couple years.


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Lawmakers discussed the facilities during a Senate Behavioral Health Subcommittee meeting on Friday. Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) said the facilities fall in line with Gov. Jay Inslee’s behavioral health transformation plan initiated in 2019 that aims to reshape how and where patients receive care.

“The facilities we’re going to talk about today were developed as part of the comprehensive work the governor’s office did to build out and change the behavioral health system to emphasize community placement where possible,” Frockt said.

Teesha Kirschbaum, Deputy Director of Behavioral Health and Recovery at the Washington State Health Care Authority (HCA), said the passage of House Bill 1394 in 2019 directed the development of facilities needed in order to divert people from state hospitals and assist with discharging from hospital settings.

“This legislation created new facility types,” Kirschbaum said. “It increased the capacity for long-term civil commitments to be treated in a community instead of state hospitals, and developed alternative placement options for persons with co-occurring developmental disability and behavioral health needs.”

The new facilities were created through a partnership with the Department of Commerce and the HCA, and include intensive behavioral health treatment facilities (IBHTFs).

“The purpose of these facilities is to fill a gap for those individuals who no longer benefit from treatment at state or community hospitals, but need further treatment and support to fully integrate back into their community,” Kirschbaum said. 

The facilities focus on specific needs of patients, and will offer on-site behavioral health interventions, psycho-social rehabilitation, and assistance in the development of skills to help them integrate back into their communities. 

“They will be staffed 24/7 with clinical teams to work with the individual all hours of the day if needed,” Kirschbaum said. “We expect that individuals will stay at IBHTFs for a year, but it could be longer. It’s really based on what the individual needs to be successful.”

Seven new IBHTFs will be opening within a year. A 15-bed facility will be opening in Olympia this month, Kirschbaum said. The rest will open in 2023. They will all have 16 beds, and will be located in Bremerton, Renton, Tacoma, Kennewick, Chewelah, and a yet-to-be-determined location in Spokane County. 

Three additional IBHTFs have been funded by Commerce, and are scheduled to open in the next couple years, Kirschbaum said. One will be in Skagit County and two will be in Pierce County. 

“This will result in a total of 159 beds for individuals who might otherwise have difficulty in discharging to an appropriate setting,” Kirschbaum said.

Kirschbaum also discussed mental health peer respites, which are also new to Washington. The HCA modeled its peer respite program based on an existing New York program.

“Peer respites are home-like settings for people who are experiencing behavioral health distress who do not meet requirements for more intensive levels of services, like a crisis stabilization facility,” Kirschbaum said. “The goal is to divert individuals while their symptoms are still moderate so they do not need more intensive services, to intervene with low-barrier, easy-to-access services before symptoms worsen.”

Peer respites will be voluntary, nonclinical, short-term, community-based facilities available to people over age 18. They will be staffed by certified peer counselors who provide peer support services. They aim to treat people who may be feeling negative mental health symptoms, but don’t want to isolate, and may be seeking peer support.

“For example, a person experiencing a behavioral health distress could check themselves into a peer respite, which typically is someone’s home, and receive support from others who also have experienced behavioral health distress, and have learned how to manage their symptoms,” Kirschbaum said.

Peer respites will operate in Tacoma, Spokane, Kennewick, and a yet-to-be-determined location in King County. Some aim to open in winter 2023, while others aim to open in summer 2023. A typical stay there will be for around 24 hours.