Seattle Fire's Health One unit for city's vulnerable population to expand in 2021

Early next year, the Seattle Fire Department is looking to expand Health One. It’s a unit that consists of two firefighters and three case managers who respond to some of the most vulnerable individuals in the city.

“Essentially people who cannot advocate for themselves, or really cannot navigate the system, so that’s where we step in,” said Jon Ehrenfeld, the Program Manager for Seattle Fire Mobile Integrated Health. “We understand that people are part of a system, and very often what we are looking at is the result not of just individual choices and individual actions, but larger systemic factors.”

Ehrenfled said any person in the city is a potential client, and the team uses a compassionate and trauma informed approach.

“On one level this is the hardest work I’ve ever done,” said firefighter Roger Webber. “Getting the human stories that we never got on an EMS run of 15 minutes and then to the ER. Now we’ll spend hours with someone.”

Health One launched as a pilot program in 2019. Since that launch, the unit has served nearly 500 people in Seattle, with a focus on the downtown core, South Seattle and Ballard.

About 50 percent of their clients are people experiencing homelessness.

The program relies heavily on community partnerships from medical, behavioral health, street outreach, homeless services, basic human services to food and utilities.

The large gap Health One is filling can be seen from data in 2019. There were 73,000 medical calls for service to the Seattle Fire Department, and of those 44 percent were considered to be non-emergencies.

Mayor Jenny Durkan is proposing to spend $575,000 in 2021 to add a second unit to Health One.