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Twin Falls crisis center averaging 40-plus patients a week

TWIN FALLS — The Crisis Center of South Central Idaho has been open since late last year, and an average of 42 to 45 people a week have been getting help there.

“We’re kind of proud,” Clinical Director Kim Dopson said. “We’re kind of happy with the way things are going.”

Of the 582 total visits in March through May, 306 came only once and 87 turned out to be non-episodes.

The center on Shoup Avenue West is the third such crisis center the state has paid to establish over the past few years; the others are in Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Someone having a mental health or drug abuse crisis can go there for help and stay for up to a day; then they are referred to other agencies that can give longer-term help.

The clients’ age has skewed a bit older than Dopson expected; in the second quarter of 2017, for example, 68 of the clients were ages 55-64, and 142 were 45-54. The overwhelming majority of visitors in the second quarter, or 448, were from Twin Falls County, with 109 from other counties in south-central Idaho and the rest from farther afield.

A majority of the clients, or 331 in the second quarter, had both substance abuse and mental health issues. When broken down by the main presenting issue, anxiety or depression was most common, at 120 visitors, followed by substance abuse at 117 and alcohol or drug withdrawals at 106. Of the clients, 286 either referred themselves or were referred by family or friends, with 79 referred by law enforcement or corrections, 58 by a psychiatric hospital, 44 by a doctor or hospital and 77 by other community groups.

What happens when you get checked in? First, Dopson said, there is a medical check, followed by mental health evaluations. You can stay for a day and get help from the staff, who at the end refer you to other substance abuse and mental health agencies that can continue your treatment. The place has a kitchen for snacks and individual bedrooms for the clients — a difference from the state’s other crisis centers which went with a dormitory-style layout. The center in Twin Falls is in a former medical office building, which lent itself to a different setup.

“Doctors’ examination rooms were a perfect fit to put a bed in,” Dopson said.

Also, she believes having individual rooms makes it easier for people to cope with their mental health issues.

“We really feel that sometimes, old traumatic events are the reason you’re having a crisis today,” she said.

The overwhelming majority of clients — 496 in the second quarter of 2017 — are referred to other substance abuse or mental health treatment providers when they leave. A majority are also referred to other support agencies, and to groups to help them with housing. It is estimated the center saved the legal system and hospitals $417,300 in the second quarter, by taking in people who otherwise may have gone to jail or ended up with a more extended hospital stay.

“They got some help,” said Teresa Thiemann, director of security and public relations. “They weren’t waiting in a hospital. They weren’t locked away.”

Thiemann, who is former law enforcement herself, said agencies in the area now bring people to the crisis center when appropriate rather than taking them to jail or for a more expensive hospital stay.

One question the center still has to figure out is how it will support itself after the state funds run out. The center has to have a sustainability plan done by the end of its second year of operation. Personnel costs have been particularly high, Dopson said — even when there aren’t many people in the crisis center, you still have to have a full staff in case people show up.

Some money could come from renting out conference and office space in the building. Dopson said the number of clients with health insurance has been a little higher than she expected, and the center is working on setting up a system to bill patients’ insurance companies. Some local companies and families whose loved ones have been helped at the crisis center have also expressed interest in donating, she said, and the center is looking into getting nonprofit status.

T-N series drives surge in foster parenting interest

TWIN FALLS — Recruiters have seen a surge of interest in foster parenting since the Times-News this spring published a three-part series on Idaho’s severe shortage of foster parents.

“It’s been hard to keep up with it all,” said Ellen Leavitt, who handles foster parent licensing for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Twin Falls office.

But it’s a good problem to have.

Health and Welfare this spring was desperate for more local foster parents. And despite the higher numbers of people going through training, south-central Idaho needs still more.

The Times-News project in April and May told the story of Idaho’s foster parenting shortage and other flaws in its child welfare system through the eyes of current and former foster parents and foster children. A February report by the state Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations illuminated the problems and proposed solutions, including doing a better job of retaining foster parents.

Severe shortage: Idaho foster parents quit almost as fast as they're recruited

While the need escalates, south-central Idaho suffers from a severe shortage of people who want to become foster parents, and they quit at nearly the same rate they are recruited. But it takes more than interest. Prospective foster parents must complete a months-long process to become licensed. They must face whatever problems the children bring from situations of abuse or neglect — burns, violent outbursts, distrust. And they often feel overwhelmed, asked to take on more and more children.

From March 2014 to March 2016, the number of Idaho foster homes dropped by 8 percent or 88 homes. Officials attribute that decline to foster parents’ frustrations with the system, life changes or successful adoption. And others who became foster parents to care for specific children dropped out after that need passed.

Since the OPE report came out, Idaho legislators approved two new social worker positions across the state, Leavitt said. One of them started July 1 here in south-central Idaho.

During a mid-April information session in Twin Falls for potential foster parents, 16 people showed up and Health and Welfare employees had to keep adding chairs to a meeting room.

“The most we’d ever seen was five,” said Marjean Hazen, child welfare supervisor for the agency’s Twin Falls office.

Health and Welfare’s training classes for potential new foster parents have also been full — even overcrowded. Health and Welfare added another Twin Falls class section to meet the demand.

A full class has 25 participants, Hazen said; now they’ve had as many as 30. That’s up significantly from before the newspaper series published.

“We were doing good to have 15 participants,” Hazen said.

Idaho must act fast to fix broken foster-care system

GOODING — Kelsey Peterson and her husband talked about fostering children even before they married in 2011. The young couple was finally licensed to foster in May 2015, allowed to take in two children between newborn and 3 years old.

The quality of potential foster parents is also excellent, Leavitt said, adding they come from many walks of life. Some thought about fostering for a while, Hazen said, but are now pursuing licenses after hearing there’s such a huge need. Others were interested in adopting but decided to open their homes to foster children.

In mid-July, Health and Welfare’s Twin Falls office was working on more home studies than usual — one of the final hurdles before a potential foster parent can gain a license and take in children.