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Originally published Saturday, December 28, 2013 at 8:15 PM

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New mental-health program for kids to cost nearly $40M a year

The children’s mental-health program created by a recent lawsuit settlement will ultimately cost about $75 million each biennium — a massive sum that makes the settlement one of the most significant in Washington state in years.


Seattle Times staff reporter

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A new mental-health program created by a legal settlement will eventually cost nearly $40 million a year and drastically change how Washington state administers services to children who qualify for Medicaid, officials have disclosed.

Details are emerging about the program, which will provide intensive in-home and community-based services for as many as 6,000 children and youth under 21 in the hopes of preventing them from ending up in foster care, an institution or jail.

Among other services, some participants will at any time of day or night be able to summon a mental-health expert they have worked with in the past.

Kevin Quigley, secretary of the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), said this month the program will ultimately cost about $75 million every two years, making the settlement one of the most significant in years.

Quigley called the new program “really huge.”

David Carlson, a lawyer for the 10 kids who brought the class-action lawsuit, said both sides initially tried to downplay the cost of the settlement to avoid scaring lawmakers who still must authorize the money.

The settlement agreement, reached in August, was formally approved Dec. 19 by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Zilly.

The program will start rolling out Jan. 1 but take five years to fully implement, said Carlson, legal advocacy director for Disability Rights Washington.

Many details are still to be determined.

Eventually, the Wraparound with Intensive Services program, WISe for short, will screen children and youth around the state for potential services.

If someone qualifies, a team of professionals will convene to create an individualized plan and make sure it is carried out.

One of the most significant new services will be mobile crisis outreach, which will “make someone from the team available 24 hours a day to help de-escalate in the setting in real time, as opposed to saying, ‘let’s let the police respond’ or ‘let’s talk about it next week,’ ” Carlson said.

“It’s a complete overhaul of youth mental-health services for Medicaid eligible (children),” he said. “It’s a sea change.”

The settlement stems from a 2009 federal suit in which the plaintiffs claimed the state wasn’t doing enough for young people with mental illness or other emotional issues that put them at risk of being placed out of their homes.

State officials said they agreed to a settlement in part because other states have fought similar lawsuits and lost.

Both sides also agreed on the need to focus on providing mental-health services in the community instead of in state institutions.

“Treating children at home whenever possible is more humane, less costly, and more effective than institutionalization,” said Patrick Gardner, an attorney with Young Minds Advocacy Project, which brought the suit along with Disability Rights Washington and other groups.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s supplemental budget, issued this month, proposes $15.4 million to go to the program in the first year.

WISe’s eventual cost of $75 million in state and federal money per two-year budget makes it one of the largest state programs created by a legal settlement recently.

A plan to reform the state foster-care system put in place after the landmark 2004 Braam settlement was estimated at $50 million.

“It’s expensive to provide services that will actually make a difference,” Carlson said.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal



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