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Eye On Boise

Crisis centers: ‘They don’t have great options of what to do with these folks’

Ross Edmunds, administrator of the state Division of Mental Health Services, addresses lawmakers at a budget hearing on Wednesday morning (Betsy Russell)
Ross Edmunds, administrator of the state Division of Mental Health Services, addresses lawmakers at a budget hearing on Wednesday morning (Betsy Russell)

The number of protective holds by law enforcement for Idahoans suffering mental health crises has continued to climb, lawmakers were told this morning, to a projected 5,432 in the current year, from 5,104 in fiscal year 2014. They’ve risen steadily from 3,745 in fiscal year 2009. Yet the number of those patients who were committed to state custody has stayed nearly flat over that same time period, rising from 869 in fiscal year 2009 to 1,083 this year.  

Ross Edmunds, administrator of the state Division of Mental Health for the Department of Health & Welfare, said the question is what happens to those people who get protective holds, but don’t reach the level of acuity to be committed. “There’s a growing gap there,” he told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning. “We need to figure out what to do with that level of services. … That is specifically what the crisis center is designed to do, is to meet the needs of that gap population.”

Last year, lawmakers approved funding for the first of five community mental health crisis centers in the state; it opened in December in Idaho Falls. Otter’s requesting another one next year, in a location to be determined, at a cost of $1.72 million, including $1.52 million in ongoing state general funds and $200,000 in one-time federal funds for start-up costs. Health & Welfare had requested $3.44 million to start two new crisis centers next year.

“Law enforcement find themselves frequently picking up these individuals,” Edmunds told JFAC. They’re people who are posing a threat to themselves or others. “They don’t have great options of what do to with these folks. They often times take them to emergency rooms, or they often times charge them with a crime, public disturbance, and take them to jail.” But, he said, “Emergency rooms aren’t set up to take care of someone in a protective hold. ... Law enforcement often are forced to sit there with that person for one, two, five, six hours, while that person is being taken care of in the emergency department, and then often they’re just released.”

In the first month of operation at the new Idaho Falls crisis center, 82 people have been served. Thirty were dropped off by law enforcement, Edmunds said. The rest came in themselves, or were referred by private providers, family or friends or their church. “Quite honestly, the need out there is great,” he told lawmakers. “They show up to the crisis center to get these services, that means they’re not going to the emergency room, that means they’re not being unfortunately incarcerated by law enforcement. … So excuse my soapbox if you will, but it’s really important.”

Long-term, the communities will be asked to find ways to pick up half the cost of operating the crisis centers, he said. The Idaho Falls already has received some contributions. “The community has really rallied around this,” he said.



Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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