New Mental Health Legislation Aims to Ease Burden on Emergency Rooms and Jails

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Updated: 12/18/2013 7:51 pm

Whether it’s the cries for help from Bannock County’s top cop
or the sobering statistics pointing towards a need for change, the conversation
about mental health is getting louder.

State Hospital South saw an increase in patients this year,
they also saw this last year, and they probably saw it the year before. There
are a variety of factors that are leading those to receive treatment but
because of new techniques, the average length of stay has gone down

“They are getting right into treatment and care when they
come and then when they discharge, they are discharging back to a care system
that’s ready for them to continue their recovery in the community,” said Tracey
Sessions, State Hospital South Administrator.

Tracey says a big reason for the increase is better awareness
from law enforcement.

“Our police officers are getting trained through mental
health centers, through the post-academy, and they are identifying more people that
might benefit from mental health care, in system,” said Sessions.

Last year more than 4,500 involuntary commitment cases were filed in state courts. That’s an 82
percent increase compared to five years ago. But not everyone that’s picked up
meets the criteria necessary for commitment at State Hospital South.

“And so there’s a discrepancy between the number the court
is saying and the number that actually make it into a commitment to the
Department of Health and Welfare.”

Specifically, Tracey is talking about being a danger to
yourself or others. The way things are currently setup, people with mental
illnesses or substance abuse issues are either taken to a hospital emergency
room or to jail. Administrators with the Department of Health and Welfare
believe there is a better way.  

“One thing that we know that we can do as a system is build
a system of care that helps with those people that come into contact with law
enforcement or are having problems that might need a short intervention in a
crisis facility,” said Sessions. “And so this legislative session, we’re putting
forward legislation to help with these crisis facilities across the state.

Under this proposal, crisis centers would be located in
northern Idaho, in the Boise area and in eastern Idaho. Each of these crisis
centers would be built to help patients who require less than 24 hours of
care.  They anticipate this would end up
saving tax payers money because the cost would be less than treatment in jail
or at the emergency room.


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