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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Woodward task force takes aim at Spokane’s mental health challenges

Woodward  (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review)
Woodward (DAN PELLE/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

From Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward’s perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health challenges that aren’t going away anytime soon.

In an effort to work toward identifying and addressing those challenges in the local area, Woodward’s office has called together a coalition of around three dozen health care, education, youth services and government officials from across the region.

Woodward, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and state Rep. Marcus Riccelli serve as honorary co-chairs for the task force, which met for the first time Friday morning. Other notable members include Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Adam Swinyard; Spokane County Commissioner Mary Kuney; American Indian Community Center Executive Director Linda Lauch and Dr. Frank Velázquez, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District.

The mayor’s goals with the coalition include assessing and spreading awareness for available programs and resources, while she is keen to work toward removing stigmas associated with mental health.

“We’ve all been impacted in some way,” she said, “and I think if we can’t get to a point coming out of this pandemic where we can remove the stigma of mental health, I don’t know when we’ll ever be able to do that successfully.”

From there, Woodward said the group can look toward addressing any service gaps identified by the providers and mental health professionals on the task force.

Involved in these talks will be the $3 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding earmarked by the Spokane City Council for youth intervention and behavioral health services, Woodward said. The city council voted March 7 to approve that allocation within a $12.1 million portion of the $81 million in American Rescue Plan funds awarded to the city.

At the moment, the city is preparing to solicit formal proposals on how to spend any authorized American Rescue Plan funding.

“If we can identify what those needs are, and we know we have $3 million in funding, that might inform how we spend that money,” Woodward said.

Woodward said addressing mental health challenges that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly those faced by children, has become a priority for and her office this year through conversations with teachers, students superintendents and clinicians.

Spokane Public Schools, the city’s largest provider of youth outpatient mental health services, has more than 40 school counselors, school nursing support specialists and master’s level mental health therapists districtwide, Swinyard said.

“But a mental health crisis isn’t confined to certain hours in the day,” he said in a statement. “Resolving this community-wide challenge requires conversations with all partners at the table, committed to finding community-centered solutions.”

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