Year-End Reflection

As the leader of Pierce County Human Services, I am inspired and awestruck by the great work our County, providers, and staff carry out each day to help the most vulnerable among us. Pierce County Human Services is defined by its good people. And our good people do what others don’t often see.

I could write about all the things we accomplished this year, but it would be longer than the average blog post. Instead, let me recount a few stories.

A few weeks ago, a 92-year-old man called us for help. He explained: “A couple of punks threw trash in my driveway. I am blocked in and can’t get out. I have no money to hire someone.”

A woman called and explained that her incarcerated husband just passed, and she had no means to provide for a “proper and respectful” burial.

A man called on behalf of his frail mother, who was being discharged from the hospital after a hip replacement. He had to get back to work the next day and needed someone to help with the care of his mother.

And we helped solve each of these crises.

Our society is fragile. Our neighbors need help. We answer the call.

In September, in partnership with Comprehensive Life Resources, we launched the Mobile Community Intervention Response Team (MCIRT). This team has quickly become an effective and well-respected resource working to reduce the volume of high utilizers using the 9-1-1 system in the Parkland/Spanaway area. The MCIRT works with people with low- to moderate-level, non-emergent needs who frequently utilize the 9-1-1 system—often making up to hundreds of calls per year—before they enter a crisis.

The MCIRT is composed of a unique staff of compassionate and dedicated individuals with a variety of skills sets, including a Mental Health Professional, Nurse (ARNP), Case Manager, and Peer Support. Their essential focus is on meeting community needs: from minor medical and basic assistance to resource connections, housing, and importantly, the restoration of hope.

The most recent call regarded a client we’ll refer to as Betty, a 74-year-old woman who said she did not feel safe in her home. She did not want to be there. Snapping into action, the MCIRT determined Betty’s home was in poor condition: no heat, excessive hoarding, no food, and a leaking roof. It was apparent she had been isolated without a support system for quite some time. Betty was battling Stage 4 renal failure, had poor vision, recently experienced a drastic and rapid weight loss of 100 pounds, was cognitively impaired, and unable to properly take her medications.

The first step—addressing her medical needs—required the team to schedule medical appointments, make sure Betty could get to them, and assist during the appointments in question. She was treated for hypertension, her kidney disease, dysthymia, insomnia, back pain, and anemia; which required a variety of medications. It was determined she needed a brief hospital stay.

MCIRT staff soon visited Betty in the hospital and were confronted by a social worker who stated Betty did not have medical reasons to remain overnight. Medicare would not approve additional care. Once again, Betty was adamant: She did not want to return home. She was frightened, had no food, and only had running water in the bathroom. Yet she had to return. And so the next day, MCIRT met Betty at her home with groceries, portable heaters, blankets, reading glasses, and the other essentials required to meet her needs.

While Betty was grateful, MCIRT staff realized she likely needed a safer environment—like assisted living. Determined to find stable housing and effective medical care and support, MCIRT connected with Pierce County Human Services’ Aging and Disabilities Resource Center. After nearly two months and 150 hours of hands-on contact time, Betty agreed to move in to an assisted living home, where she now receives healthy meals, medical care, social interaction, and other supports to meet her basic needs. Betty is adjusting to her new home, and the team remains in contact with her.

Traci, the team’s Mental Health Professional from Comprehensive Life Resources, describes their current efforts as ensuring Betty lives a happier, healthier, and less isolated life—and continues to receive the care and support she needs. Since her move-in, MCIRT staff have reached out across the country to reunite Betty with her children.

This is a story that positions real human suffering next to the care and compassion a team of professionals gives to our most vulnerable. And it’s just one story about one client helped by one team—a dedicated team that uses an effective approach to improve the lives of people struggling with barriers that impact the whole community.

In the coming days, many will write about what this year has meant to them. Here’s what it means to me. I’ve learned it can be difficult to communicate success when you’re succeeding at invisible work and exceeding invisible goals. Yes—we measure our outcomes in many ways; and those measurements are important for things like budgets and reports and contracts. But the work that isn’t seen can be just as important—if not more so. Keep an eye out for it.

With best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year,