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Eye on Boise: Idaho examines its mental health system

Raul Labrador is going home after an unsuccessful bid for governor, unsure of what he will do next and thoroughly disollusioned by his time in Congress. (AP)
Raul Labrador is going home after an unsuccessful bid for governor, unsure of what he will do next and thoroughly disollusioned by his time in Congress. (AP)
By Betsy Russell Idaho Press-Tribune

Advocates for improving Idaho’s behavioral health system say the time is right.

The new Idaho Behavioral Health Alliance drew a standing room-only crowd at the state Capitol last week for a public forum aimed at identifying ways to make Idaho’s care system better both for adults and children. Major reforms have been put in place to the state’s children’s mental health system as a result of the settlement of the long-running “Jeff D” lawsuit, which started in 1980, and Idaho lawmakers in recent years have been targeting improvements to the adult system, including new mental health crisis centers around the state.

Ross Edmunds, administrator of the Behavioral Health Division at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, told the crowd, “It feels like I’ve never seen a time in our state where there is as much recognition. I think the time is right for us to try to make some great gains in behavioral health.”

One in four Idahoans live with some form of mental illness. And despite the advances, from the crisis centers to the state’s now-established 24/7 suicide hotline, the state still has big coverage gaps, especially in rural areas. Lauren Necochea of Idaho Voices for Children said from 2011 to 2015, more than half of Idahoans who needed mental health services didn’t receive them.

Experts from St. Luke’s, St. Alphonsus and Blue Cross said the problem will continue to worsen if uninsured poor people in Idaho with mental illness have no way to receive services, because they’ll continue to have crises and keep coming back.

“Gaps in insurance coverage prevent people from accessing primary care and appropriate treatment,” said Corey Surber, director of advocacy for St. Alphonsus. “And as a result, we are constantly seeing patients at the point of crisis, and the emergency room becomes a revolving door as they experience difficulty accessing the treatment and supports they need.”

Ten years ago, Idaho contracted with the mental health program of WICHE, the Western Interstate Center for Higher Education, to assess Idaho’s services and make recommendations; now a new 10-year analysis from WICHE is in. It found that despite improvements, Idaho’s system remains fragmented, and lays out recommendations to move toward providing a “continuum of care” approach.

‘Angriest man in Congress’

Politico on Friday profiled outgoing Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, who will leave Congress this year after an unsuccessful run for governor in the May GOP primary. When Labrador arrived in D.C. as part of a Tea Party wave in 2010, Politico wrote, “Few incoming members were more bellicose than Labrador, a Puerto Rico-born immigration attorney who had distinguished himself as a conservative firebrand during two terms in the Idaho statehouse.”

“It’s an understatement to say Labrador has failed to fit in,” wrote Politico reporter Tim Alberta. “He is, in the words of one friend, ‘The angriest man in Congress,’ an abrasive critic of Washington whose time here only darkened his outlook.”

The lengthy article also notes, “He’s heading home at year’s end, unsure of what he will do next.” Labrador, who has declined interview requests from Idaho reporters since his election loss, told Politico he’s glad to be escaping a “broken” Congress and the “hypocrites” in his own party. “I won’t miss a lot of things about this place,” Labrador said. “I think some people lose their soul here. This is a place that just sucks your soul. It takes everything from you.”

The full piece is available online at

Nine cabin sites auctioned off

The Idaho Department of Lands auctioned off nine state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake on Friday for a total of $3.87 million, as part of the state Land Board’s continuing push to get out of the business of renting lots to lake cabin owners who build and own their homes on them.

Thanks to competitive bidding for four of the lots on Friday, the total price was $382,500 more than the appraised value. Eight of the nine lots had homes on them; seven of the lots went to the owners of the homes, who until now had been paying rent to the state for the land underneath.

The competitive bidding all was for upland, rather than lakefront lots; two of the four bidding wars were won by the cabin owners. When someone other than the cabin owner has the top bid in an auction like this, the successful bidder must pay the cabin owner the appraised value for the improvements, in addition to paying the state for the land.

The winning bids in Friday’s auction ranged from $81,500 to $1.2 million. The lakefront lot that went for $1.2 million went to the lessee for the appraised value, without competition.

Including Friday’s auction, the state has now sold off 342 state-owned lake cottage sites, 202 at Priest Lake and 140 at Payette Lake, bringing in a total of $152.5 million for the state endowment, the largest beneficiary of which is Idaho’s public schools.

The state Land Board plans to invest the proceeds into more lucrative timber or farm land to earn better returns for the state endowment.