Mayor Durkan, Councilmember Bagshaw and Fire Chief Scoggins Announce Seattle’s New “Health One” Pilot Program to Address Non-Emergency 911 Calls Downtown

Specially Trained Team of Firefighters and A Social Worker Will Help People Downtown with Behavioral Health or Substance Abuse Issues, Non-Emergency Medical Issues, and Access to Services  

Team Will Provide Alternatives to Transport to Emergency Departments and Allow Fire Department Units to Focus on Emergencies Like Structure Fires and Vehicle Accidents 

SEATTLE (May 7, 2019) – Mayor Jenny A. Durkan, Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, and Fire Chief Harold Scoggins announced the creation of the City’s new pilot program “Health One,” a team of specially trained Seattle Fire Department (SFD) firefighters and civilian specialists that will help people downtown with non-emergency 911 requests for issues like substance abuse, non-emergency medical issues, and a need to access services. This new SFD-sponsored pilot program will more appropriately address the needs of individuals with non-emergency 911 requests in and around downtown Seattle. 

“As our city grows, our ability to deliver emergency and non-emergency responses must also grow. We pioneered Medic One, which became the gold standard in emergency health response. Non-emergency cases need a similar response in our growing urban environment,” said Mayor Durkan. “Thank you to Councilmember Sally Bagshaw for her vision and leadership in making this pilot a reality. And as always, thank you to the members of the Seattle Fire Department for all they do to serve our communities. We made Seattle the safest place in the world to suffer a heart attack. We will lead on new urban health responses.” 

The department is designating a vehicle that can serve as the lead Health One response unit, and station it in downtown Seattle. The unit will respond during designated peak-time hours to incidents occurring in the downtown core and some adjacent residential neighborhoods. In the coming months, SFD will begin to staff the unit and undergo training, and prepare for placing the unit in service and ready to respond by late 2019. 

On Wednesday at the City Council, Chief Scoggins will discuss the work that the Seattle Fire Department has done to design the pilot and help patients in and around downtown Seattle receive individually tailored services and diversion options. The designated unit will primarily respond to patients with the following incidents: behavioral crisis or substance abuse, chronic or low acuity medical complaints and/or social service needs.  

“Many of the low acuity calls received by the fire department are related to homelessness, mental health, social needs, drug and alcohol use and chronic medical issues. These are healthcare needs that a typical emergency medical response unit is not well equipped to address. We can now look beyond the traditional method of transporting patients to an emergency room, and connect them with appropriate services,” said Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. 

Councilmember Bagshaw allocated $475,000 to the Seattle Fire Department in the 2019 budget process to implement a mobile integrated health program like Health One. SFD is allocating an additional $25,000 dollars towards the program, bringing the total to $500,000 for the program, which is funded for a full year. In 2018, 42 percent of SFD’s medical calls were deemed “low acuity” calls. These calls dispatched an SFD unit and generally resulted in no action or a non-emergency transport by an ambulance provider to a hospital’s emergency department.  

“Our hope is that this pilot program will improve the patient experience and the outcomes of individuals who access the City 911 system for non-emergency complaints, and lessen the impact of non-emergency requests for service on SFD operations units,” said Councilmember Bagshaw.   

“A low-acuity mobile response team is a key strategy and investment for the City of Seattle to meet the less serious but emergent healthcare needs of people in crises, including the elderly, isolated and/or people experiencing homelessness,” said Councilmember M. Lorena González (Position 9, Citywide). “Rather than sending an entire aid care or fire engine, the Seattle Fire Department will now be more nimble by dispatching response teams equipped with a social worker and a Firefighter/EMT to meet the emergent needs of some of our most vulnerable residents while saving taxpayer dollars for other critical public safety services.”

“This program will allow the Seattle Fire Department to work efficiently and focus our limited resources on true emergencies – including structure fires, vehicle accidents, gas leaks, hazardous materials spills, urban search and rescue, and life-threatening medical emergencies, just to name a few. At the same time, it will also allow our firefighters to work in partnership with social service agencies to provide the best care possible for all the residents of Seattle,” said Seattle Firefighters Local 27 President Kenny Stuart.

The Seattle Fire Department has worked extensively with other City and County partners to research and complement existing programs already in place, such as the Seattle Police Mobile Crisis Unit and County-supported Mobile Crisis Team. The City’s Emergency Response Interdepartmental Team, which consists of SFD, Human Services Department, Seattle Police Department and Public Health Seattle-King County, continues to assess how the City can best address the needs of the people who most frequently utilize the City’s emergency response system, and how interventions might mitigate challenges faced by emergency responders when engaging with frequent utilizers.