EVERETT — Snohomish County is facing a behavioral health care crisis. In its biggest project ever, a local nonprofit wants to pair health care with housing to help solve the problem.
Compass Health began as an orphanage 115 years ago, and now has more than 20 locations to provide health care and housing services for low-income people in Northwest Washington. Now Compass is thinking bigger — an entire block in Everett dedicated to behavioral health care and permanent supportive housing.
“This project is special because it pairs health care with housing,” said Rep. Julio Cortes, D-Everett. “We can’t just help people and then let them go.”
The endeavor started with Andy’s Place, a $26 million building of 82 supportive housing units at 3301 Lombard Ave. Since opening in 2021, the housing-first facility has provided peer support, homeless outreach and mental health treatment services.
The nonprofit is now building a 72,000-square-foot intensive behavioral health facility at 3300 Broadway. Plans include a 16-bed involuntary inpatient unit and a 16-bed voluntary crisis triage center.
“This is the biggest project that Compass Health has ever taken on,” said Tom Kozaczynski, chief advancement officer for Compass Health.
The facility set to open in 2025 is projected to cost $68.5 million.
Through its partnerships, Compass Health secured $39.7 million from the state and $1 million from the Everett City Council for the project. Last October, the nonprofit launched a public campaign to raise $14 million, and was about $3 million away from its goal last week.
“It’s no secret to anyone that our city is facing a behavioral health crisis,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said. “Partners like Compass Health play a major role in addressing our community’s increasingly complex behavioral healthcare needs.”
Kozaczynski said his role at Compass Health has changed “dramatically” since he was hired 10 years ago. He used to be the only person on staff focused on marketing and fundraising efforts. As behavioral health needs have come to a crisis point, the nonprofit has had to think bigger.
“We can’t do it alone,” Kozaczynski said. “The community knows us, they know the work we do. That’s something we’ve been incredibly blessed with.”
Involuntary treatment beds are a specific need for the county. Someone experiencing severe mental distress usually ends up in the emergency department, jail or Western State Hospital, an 800-bed psychiatric center south of Tacoma.
“For us to be able to have these beds is huge,” Kozaczynski said. “Serving individuals in the community where they have support is the most beneficial for their recovery.”
Severe mental illness in Snohomish County adults doubled from 2015 to 2020, with rates higher the state average according to an annual health report. Nearly 40% of Snohomish County youths reported feeling sad or hopeless every day for at least two weeks in 2021.
Compass Health expects the new facility to serve about 1,300 people each year. Beyond providing beds, the nonprofit hired Lotus Development Partners to design a “state-of-the-art” building for clients and workers.
“We want the physical plans of our facilities to communicate the dignity and respect of the individuals we serve,” Kozaczynski said.
The nonprofit hopes a new, well-designed facility will help attract and retain up to 200 employees. Tom Sebastian, president and CEO of Compass Health, said the nonprofit’s biggest challenge is a shortage of health care workers.
Compass Health ended the 2022 fiscal year just under $170,000 in the red. So far, the nonprofit has been able to afford the Broadway project without stopping other services, but that may not always be the case. The nonprofit’s long-term sustainability, Kozaczynski said, would likely require a care reimbursement model similar to that of federally funded behavioral health facilities.
Despite price hikes related to inflation, Kozaczynski said, the nonprofit has not changed its plans to improve patient care through design.
“They deserve the same level of care that anyone else does,” he said. “That’s always been our bottom line.”