Idaho cities vie for $1.5 million crisis center

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare says a decision about where to build a $1.5 million state-funded behavioral-health crisis center will likely be made within a week.

"The decision will be based on local support, community need and how well organized each community is so that they can get going as soon as possible," agency spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr told the Post Register.

A committee of behavioral health, financial and research professionals is reviewing proposals from Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho, Boise in southwestern Idaho, and Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho. The center would serve as a safety net to treat at-risk mentally ill people whose symptoms often land them in hospitals or jail.

Health and Welfare requested from state lawmakers $600,000 in startup money and $4.56 million to operate three crisis centers.

Lawmakers earlier this year approved the $600,000 grant, but they reduced operations funding to $1.52 million, enough for only one crisis center.

"We are treating this as a pilot," Forbing-Orr said. "The data that the crisis center generates will help us convince the Legislature to grant more funding for more centers."

Bonneville County Sheriff's Capt. Sam Hulse said Idaho Falls is the best spot for the center because of regional support and a good working relationship among health agencies and law enforcement.

"When you look at the region's history, you can see that law enforcement, court officials and mental health providers work together to break down the silos between people that provide care and people who protect the community," Hulse said. "By using new concepts and ideas to make the center work, we can show the value that it would have to other communities."

The crisis center would fill a need, he said.

"If a person is a threat to themselves or society, the only two options we have are taking the person to an emergency room or to jail," Hulse said.

In northern Idaho, Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger makes a similar argument for putting the crisis center in that area. He and four area police chiefs plus a state senator signed a letter requesting Coeur d'Alene get the center.

"When federal funding ceased for involuntary commitments in the 1980s and mental health facilities/hospitals were forced to close down, all law enforcement agencies throughout the nation struggled to find a suitable facility that was appropriate for both voluntary and involuntary patients," the March 20 letter says. "This unfortunate decision placed a burden on all communities and law enforcement agencies that had to deal with mental illness."

Boise is in highly populated Ada County. Ada County Sheriff's Office officials didn't return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.

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Information from: Post Register