The Key Peninsula Has Become a Community of Focus

Health disparities combined with willing community partners have brought resources from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to the Key Peninsula.


In 2017 the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department designated the Key Peninsula as a community of focus.

In 2015 the department conducted a health equity assessment of nine data points in each zip code in Pierce County. The data points were life expectancy, poverty, unemployment, high school graduation, frequency of mental distress, smoking, obesity, diabetes and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). They also identified those areas with the fewest opportunities to address poor outcomes.

Fourteen zip codes stood out. “Vaughn, zip code 98394, was one of those zip codes,” Communities of Focus Coordinator Marcy Boulet said. “We recognized that the community suffered from health disparities compared to other parts of the county and that access to resources was limited.”

With a vision of equitable neighborhoods where all people who live, learn, work and play can thrive, the department created a team to support improvement in what they identified as communities of focus. In 2017 the Key Peninsula, East Tacoma and Springbrook became the first to join the effort. White River, South Tacoma and Parkland were added in 2018.

Boulet said that having community partners to work with was critical. The Key Peninsula Community Council and the Key Peninsula Partnership for a Health Community recently completed a survey identifying local needs. “The community said that it was hard to access resources, that people had to go all the way to Tacoma for consultation and support,” Boulet said. “We focused on what folks wanted to work on. It’s part of building trust.”

The community council opened its office in the Key Center Corral in 2017 and the health department rented space, offering regular office hours for residents to talk directly to staff about permitting and other issues.

The pandemic put an end to office hours but having strong relationships in place simplified planning to bring resources to the area. “We could build on them in a time of need,” Boulet said. “The KP was the first location of a vaccine clinic. We worked with Dr. (William) Roes and the (Key Medical Clinic), the fire department. We found out from trusted messengers where people would be comfortable.”

“We were able to go to The Mustard Seed Project to just talk to the people who went by,” said Daniel Burdsall, Communities of Focus liaison “And I want to give a shout-out to the Longbranch Improvement Club. They were a proactive partner in reaching the south end of the KP. We offered healthy treats and COVID tests at Trunk or Treat.”

They also partnered with Virginia Mason/Franciscan to build raised beds at Key Peninsula Community Services to supplement the food bank there with fresh produce.

“The introduction of Communities of Focus has been a transformative force for Key Peninsula,” said Willow Eaton, executive director of KP Community Services. “It has fostered an increased awareness of our community’s unique needs and inspired a stronger sense of unity and collaboration among local service organizations. We’ve witnessed a significant surge in attention and support from Pierce County, which has greatly uplifted our collective efforts and reduced feelings of isolation.”

With the end of the pandemic, the department shifted its focus back to how to best provide support.

Office hours resumed at the council office in Key Center, with county staff scheduled most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to noon. They cover issues related to septic systems, drinking water, air quality, healthy housing, resources for Spanish speakers, and parenting.

Boulet said her team measures its impact based on qualitative information. “We know if communities are more engaged and have autonomy they report better wellbeing. We know there are kinds of services and programs that lead to conditions that will improve health outcomes. So we will encourage policies that improve things like parks, walking paths and clean water.”

“The Key Peninsula is a ‘both-and’ story,” Boulet said. “Historically there are inequities, but there is a lot of strength and resilience. There is such a willingness to partner.”

“The community is what makes the Key Peninsula such a beautiful place,” Burdsall said. “People are passionate. People will share all their great ideas about how they want to improve the area and they will also tell you how you can do it better.”

The health department recently hired a new director and is in the process of hiring a new health officer. The current strategic plan, including Communities in Focus, has been extended for another 12 to 18 months and will be updated under the new leadership.

The schedule for the KP Community Council office is available at