Acknowledging that the history and mission of the Verdant Health Commission may be a mystery to some in the community, Verdant Superintendent Robin Fenn gave an overview during the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce’s Thursday lunch meeting.
She began by explaining “Verdant in a nutshell.” In 2010, South Snohomish County’s Public Hospital District No. 2 decided — for a number of reasons — to change its model of running the existing Stevens Hospital and instead moved to owning the hospital building and leasing it to Swedish Health Systems. That’s when Stevens Hospital became Swedish Edmonds.
“The best way of thinking of this is to say that we, the health district, known as the Verdant Health Commssion, are the landlord-plus for Swedish Edmonds. Swedish pays Verdant rent and Verdant maintains the building,” Fenn explained.
“The plus part is related to the lease agreement — they (Swedish Edmonds) have to maintain certain lines of business for you as a community and they can’t rid of those,” she added. These include services such as the emergency department and maternity care “that are big pieces of the community and things that a hospital does for the community,” she said.
In addition to receiving rent from Swedish Edmonds, Verdant owns some property in the hospital area, including the Krueger Clinic and the Value Village on Highway 99. That rent brings in about $11 million annually, and Verdant also receives about $2.3 million annually in tax dollars for operations and maintenance, Fenn said.
The Verdant service area is about the same footprint as the Edmonds School District, serving about 180,000 people in Edmonds, Esperance, Woodway, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Lynnwood, plus small pieces of Bothell and unincorporated Snohomish County.
How does Verdant use those tax dollars? “The best way to think of it is, we act like a community health foundation,” Fenn said. “We put grant money out into the community for programs that improve the health and wellness of the residents who live within our district.”
Verdant has a couple of priority areas it funds — access to medical care and dental care, childhood obesity and behavioral health issues including mental health and substance abuse, Fenn said.
Verdant also operates a wellness center on 196th Street Southwest in Lynnwood, across from Fred Meyer and next to the party store. Health and wellness programs offered there include classes related to healthy cooking, disease prevention, yoga and weight loss. In addition, Verdant hosts community partners, such as the Hero’s Cafe for veterans, as a regular gathering place.
Verdant Health Commissioner Dr. Jim Distelhorst, a retired family physician, also spoke, and described his recent visits to some of the programs that Verdant funds. One of those was an organization that provides social and financial support to pregnant women in need, and another one does evaluations on young children who may have developmental issues.
Fenn noted that Verdant also hosts a 211 community resource advocate — operated through the Volunteers of America — who helps people throughout South Snohomish County access resources for social services by dialing 211.
After discovering that some people “needed more than just a 211 phone call,” Fenn said that Verdant hired its own social worker who does more intensive case management “with some of the most vulnerable folks in our community,” to ensure they get the services they need.
Speaking about the ways that Verdant addresses mental health issues, Fenn pointed a program called CHART (Chronic Utilizer Alternative Response Team), which involves command-level staff from local police departments and South County Fire & Rescue, along with officials from Verdant and Swedish Edmonds. The goal is to work with those patients who are heavy users of emergency services and are constantly cycling through the world of law enforcement, paramedics and emergency rooms.
These ongoing visits are costly to cities and hospitals, and the patients themselves “are still stuck in this system going around and around,” Fenn explained.
The goal of the CHART initiative is to determine who the heavy users are and come up with solutions — with the help of social service providers — to address their needs, Fenn said. Those social workers “are able to swoop in, provide intensive wrap-around services and get the folks the right care, at the right time, at the right place. Because we found that isn’t always happening,” she added.
Fenn also pointed to funding that Verdant provided for intensive Crisis Intervention Team training aimed at helping Edmonds, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Brier police officers develop the skills needed to deal with those experiencing mental health issues.
In another initiative, Verdant provides student support advocates in Edmonds School District schools to help students who are experiencing mental health and substance abuse issues.
Those advocates focus on “what can we do to strengthen them (the students), create resilience, get them moving in the right direction so they don’t end up in 10 years as one of our CHART clients,” Fenn said.
There is also the Verdant-funded Community Resource Paramedic program through South County Fire, which provides in-home services for people who have repeated falls, rather than transporting them to the hospital. Since many of those patients also have chronic mental health issues, a licensed mental health professional accompanies paramedics.
You can learn more about Verdant’s programs and work at verdanthealth.org.
— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel