EVERETT — Construction has finally started on a long-planned project that will convert an underused part of a juvenile detention center in Everett into two substance abuse treatment facilities.
The nearly $18 million renovations at Snohomish County’s Denney Juvenile Justice Center began on June 1, said Cammy Hart-Anderson, manager of the county’s Division of Behavioral Health and Veteran Services.
Part of the juvenile lockup will become a pair of 16-bed facilities — one that will serve those addicted to opioids, and another that will cater to people with substance use disorder and mental health needs, such as anxiety and depression.
“We don’t have any treatment currently like this in Snohomish County for people who are on Medicaid,” Hart-Anderson said.
The building is expected to be ready for occupancy by July 1, 2021. The centers will likely be operated by Seattle-based Pioneer Human Services, although the county hasn’t yet made a final decision on the provider.
In Snohomish County, police, social workers and medical providers have long struggled with a lack of open beds in drug treatment programs. The shortage leads to many people being sent elsewhere in the state for treatment. Others suffering from addiction are left with few places to go aside from jails and emergency rooms.
The problem could intensify in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, which has dealt financial blows to inpatient centers that have tried to keep their doors open even as client lists have dwindled amid the pandemic.
“In the world of inpatient addiction treatment, when we lose beds, they don’t come back,” said state Rep. Lauren Davis, executive director of the Washington Recovery Alliance. She added that industry advocates and others are “scrambling” to find financial resources to protect such facilities from closing.
“The fact that there’s more beds being created, and created close to home, is incredibly significant and a real sign of hope,” said Davis, a Democrat whose district includes Lynnwood and Edmonds.
Before the pandemic, inpatient centers that accept Medicaid were grappling with a workforce shortage and low reimbursement rates, she said.
In recent years, changes in the state system for delivering Medicaid benefits have resulted in other problems, she said. Many treatment centers experienced delays before they were paid money they were owed, which hit smaller organizations especially hard. Administrative hangups also led to time lags between when someone wanted treatment and when they could be admitted into a facility.
“It really was the perfect storm that was created, with COVID being the last straw,” Davis said.
Since the coronavirus crisis began, treatment centers with multiple beds in each room have had to lower capacity to meet social distancing requirements. And fewer people have shown up to be admitted due to fear of the virus.
Thus, revenues have suffered.
“The residential capacity has taken a big hit,” said Linda Grant, CEO of Evergreen Recovery Centers, which operates a residential treatment center for pregnant and parenting women in Everett.
Evergreen has had to reduce its bed count at the women’s facility, as well as at the men’s treatment center it runs in Mount Vernon.
Meanwhile, experts are predicting that many people will emerge from the COVID-19 crisis in need of treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.
“I think we’re going to probably see a rush,” Grant said. “You’ve got a lot of stress. And we’ve seen some people relapse.”
County leaders have for years eyed the Denney Juvenile Justice Center as a potential treatment facility.
Located along 10th Street in Everett’s Delta neighborhood, the facility was built in the 1990s. At the time, county leaders assumed that the number of young people in custody would grow with the county’s overall population. But reforms in the juvenile justice system have channeled more kids into alternative programs instead of putting them behind bars.
Denney has capacity for about 130 youth offenders. In recent years, though, the population has dipped as low as the single digits.
“I’m very pleased to have additional treatment beds in our community,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said. “We don’t need a large juvenile detention center. And this uses that space for something that we do desperately need in our community.”
Given the shortage of nearby options, people often must travel to Eastern Washington for treatment.
Some contend that people must be taken out of old environments to overcome addiction. But the distance can also make recovery more difficult. Transportation becomes a logistical hurdle. The ability of families and friends to support someone in treatment is hindered. And when someone is released from inpatient treatment, coordinating everything they need for the transition is a challenge, Hart-Anderson said.
“It’s harder for them to continue that critical, ongoing treatment support (and) relapse education components when they go elsewhere for inpatient,” she said.
Beds at the new facilities at Denney will go to those who are considered indigent, low-income or working poor. Operations will be funded by Medicaid reimbursements, said Hart-Anderson.
The bulk of the project cost — about $11.4 million — came from the state capital budget. The former North Sound Behavioral Health Organization provided roughly $2.7 million more. The county is covering the rest.
The treatment facilities will take up just a small portion of Denney’s 106,000 square feet. With a roughly 7,300-square-foot addition to the existing building, both centers will total about 20,400 square feet.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with the mental or emotional effects of the coronavirus pandemic, you can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Disaster Distress Helpline at 800-985-5990.
SAMHSA also operates a 24/7 national helpline at 800-662-4357 that offers treatment referral and information services in English and Spanish for individuals and families who are facing mental health issues, substance use disorders or both.