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Behavioral Health and Recovery Services

Department of Community and Human Services

Behavioral Health and Recovery Division
Chinook Building
401 Fifth Ave., Suite 400
Seattle, WA 98104

Jim Vollendroff, Dir.
e-mail us
Phone:  206-263-9000
Fax:   206-296-0583
TTY:   711 Relay Service

Employee Directory

Department: Community and Human Services
Adrienne Quinn, Director

The History of Recovery in King County

The idea of recovery and mental illness has evolved over many years. The primary goal that people who have a mental illness should live in the community, rather than in big institutions like hospitals, and receive services where they live began in 1963 with the Community Mental Health Centers Act passed by the U.S. Congress.

The system evolved some over time, between 1963 and 2000. Progress has been faster since because of better understanding of recovery and what helps. See a timeline of recovery oriented activities since 1963.

The First Mental Health Recovery Ordinance

 On October 16, 2000, the Metropolitan King County Council passed Ordinance #13974 , the Mental Health Recovery Ordinance. Ordinance #13974 was championed by the late Councilmember Kent Pullen, who wanted to assure that the publicly-funded mental health system provided the appropriate types of supports to enable people with mental illnesses to move towards greater independence and less reliance on the public service delivery system. The ordinance directed the Mental Health, Chemical Abuse and Dependency Services Division (MHCADSD) of the Department of Community and Human Service to ensure that the publicly funded mental health system in King County became grounded in mental health recovery principles, and to report to the Council on system progress.

Ordinance #13974 was written with the idea that persons with severe mental illness should become "recovered" and spoke of clients becoming less dependent as a measure of recovery. Reporting requirements focused on adults only, and only those with certain diagnoses.

New information emerged in the literature that speaks to recovery for all persons with mental illness, whatever their age and whatever their level of disability. We know that recovery is a process, not an end point, and that our measures of recovery must reflect this knowledge.

Additionally, in the time since Ordinance #13974 was passed, three developments occurred that suggested that it might be time to revisit the ordinance. These developments were that:

MHCADSD made some impact on transforming the publicly funded mental health system into a recovery-oriented system. For example, MHCADSD developed a vocational program that makes employment services available to clients anywhere in King County, when the agency from which they are receiving services does not have its own employment program. MHCADSD also began to shift residential resources away from large facilities to services that support publicly funded mental health clients to live safely in the community. Finally, MHCADSD began conducting an annual evaluation of the extent to which mental health services provided in the publicly funded system are recovery based.

The concept of recovery has continued to evolve nationally. The clinical practices that foster recovery are increasingly based on research findings and established best practices, and accountability measures are becoming more clearly identified. Both of these developments mean that how to implement recovery and how to measure it are clearer than they were in 2000.

The King County publicly funded mental health system has faced significant challenges. The challenges included decreased funding, increased federal regulatory requirements, and reduced inpatient resources. The impact of these challenges has been to create an environment of resource scarcity. This in turn restricts the celerity with which system transformation can occur.

In April 2005, the Council approved MHCADSD's request to suspend Ordinance #13974 and replace it with one that more fully reflects the present reality.

Please return to the summary of King County's efforts to promote Recovery for more information about the activities and planning since 2005.