Pierce County News

1. County faces mental health funding woes Jan. 1

Federal guidelines set to take effect Jan. 1 will force community mental health providers to deny services to people who need help but aren’t eligible for Medicaid. In Pierce County, these are the approximately 2,300 individuals identified as “lower-need non-Medicaid consumers” and include children, adults and the elderly.

Without services these individuals have nowhere to turn other than jails, hospital emergency rooms, homeless shelters and crisis centers that are already overburdened by others with insufficient access to mental health treatment. Fran Lewis, director of Pierce County Human Services and administrator of the Pierce County Regional Support Network, describes the upcoming change as one of the worst crises to face mental health consumers.
“Individuals and families who have benefited from our services in the past will no longer qualify under the new federal guidelines,” she said. “These are some of the most vulnerable people in our community. The outlook for their recovery is bleak if the state is not able to replace significant mental health funding.”

The state Mental Health Task Force this fall studied the implications of the new federal process and recommends that the governor-elect and Legislature maintain current mental health services and funding levels through the end of the current biennium in mid 2005. It also recommends that a separate supplemental budget for community mental health services be introduced and passed in January.

The situation is particularly alarming in Pierce County, which will be affected disproportionately than other counties because of the state Mental Health Division funding distribution formula. Even with the recommended state funding, Pierce County and its service providers stand to lose $4.9 million over the first six months of 2005.

The four major mental health providers in Pierce County who will be most affected by the change are Greater Lakes Mental Healthcare, Comprehensive Mental Health Center, Good Samaritan Behavioral Healthcare, and Catholic Community Services.

Under former regulations non-Medicaid individuals with mental illness could receive treatment paid with savings generated from efficiencies in the managed care system. This no longer will be allowed by the Medicaid authorities.

The Regional Support Network is the local authority for the mental health system and is responsible for allocation of the fund for all mental health service providers.

2. Resolve to recycle your Christmas tree

Pierce County Solid Waste suggests residents make a New Year’s resolution that makes environmental sense: Resolve to recycle your Christmas tree. People residing in unincorporated Pierce County can recycle it through the Solid Waste Division’s “Treecycling” program.

Thousands of families participate in the program each year, using either the curbside yardwaste collection service or drop-off locations throughout the county. All trees collected in the program are composted into a beneficial soil amendment that is used by home and commercial gardeners.

“‘Treecycling’ helps save valuable landfill space. Once composted, your tree will enhance soil quality, conserve water in landscaping, and even help reduce reliance on chemical fertilizers,” said Steve Wamback, Pierce County Solid Waste Administrator.

Here’s how to “treecycle” your unflocked Christmas tree: Remove the tree stand and tinsel, decorations, garland, nails and staples. If you subscribe to your hauler’s curbside yardwaste collection program, cut the tree into 4-foot lengths and leave at the curb next to your yardwaste cart on any regularly scheduled yardwaste collection days in January.

Another option is taking your tree to one of the County’s solid waste transfer stations. Transfer station locations: Anderson Island, 9607 Steffenson Road; Hidden Valley, 17925 Meridian Ave. E.; Key Center, 5900 Key Peninsula Hwy KPN; Prairie Ridge, Prairie Ridge Drive East @ South Prairie Road; and Purdy, 144th Street Northwest @ 54th Avenue.

Each household may “treecycle” one unflocked tree free-of-charge. Multiple trees will be charged at the yardwaste recycling rate of $7 per cubic yard. Transfer stations are closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Flocked trees cannot be composted and must be disposed as garbage.

For more information about curbside collection or additional drop-off sites, call Pierce County’s Solid Waste Information Line – 253-798-4115 – or go to www.piercecountywa.org/treecycle.

3. Farm Advisory Commission seeks applicants
Pierce County is seeking applicants for five positions on the Pierce County Farm Advisory Commission. The deadline for applying has been extended a month to Jan. 31.

The commission’s 11 members represent the diversity of the agricultural economy, various agricultural operations and the regions of Pierce County. The commission serves in an advisory capacity and may make recommendations to the County Executive and County Council on agricultural policies and programs which affect agriculture. Commissioners serve four-year terms.

For more information or to request an application form, contact Planning and Land Services at 253-798-2785. Applications should be returned to Pierce County Department of Planning and Land Services, 2401 S. 35th St., Room 228, Tacoma, WA, 98409-7490 no later than Jan. 31.