TWIN FALLS | Eastern Idaho got a state-funded crisis center in Idaho Falls in 2014. Northern Idaho got a state-funded crisis center in Coeur d’Alene in December 2015.

The Magic Valley could be next.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is proposing $1.72 million in funding for another crisis center to be built in southern Idaho.

Does this mean the Magic Valley? It could, but there is a competitive application process and a possibility that, if Twin Falls were to go for it, it would be competing with an application from the Boise area. And for an application to win, it would need strong local buy-in and commitment to provide some of the money after the initial state money runs out.

The centers are open 24 hours a day and provide a temporary place for people having mental health or substance abuse crises, providing police with a place to take them other than to jail or a hospital. While people are there, they can be connected with mental health and addiction services.

“It’s just much more of an effective and humane way,” said state Department of Health and Welfare spokesman Tom Shanahan.

So far, the state has funded the two centers in Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene. If lawmakers leave the third one in the 2016-2017 budget, it would likely go in the southwestern or south-central area of the state, Shanahan said.

Local law enforcement agencies and others seem to be in favor of bringing it to the Magic Valley.

“We toured the Eastern Idaho facility, and I think it’s a great benefit to the community,” said Lori Stewart, spokeswoman for the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. “It offers help and resources to people who might otherwise fall between the cracks. It gives them a place to go where there are immediate resources. We would love to have it here.”

“We are extremely supportive of the idea,” said Brian Pike, deputy city manager for public safety in Twin Falls. “We’ve had background discussions with the major stakeholders — the Department of Health and Welfare, Twin Falls city and county — about how it would benefit the area. We want to make sure it’s sustainable once state funding runs outs. If we’re chosen, we want to make sure we can move it forward.”

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said she would like to see a crisis center in the Magic Valley, but that local government, law enforcement and health-care providers are going to have to do their homework and figure out what they need to do if they want one.

Idaho Falls competed with applications both from Coeur d’Alene and from Boise for its center.

“We looked at pretty much the community involvement there, as far as what kind of investment do we have, or stakeholder involvement do we have, from law enforcement, hospitals, counties and cities in the area,” Shanahan said.

What the center does

From its opening in mid-December 2014 until the end of last year, the Behavioral Health Crisis Center of East Idaho received 2,359 visits, Director Brenda Price said.

“We start with a nursing assessment,” Price said of a routine patient visit. “The nurse will start the interview, and a case manager will sit in, if available. We make sure the individual is medically stable, and once that’s determined, a case manager will do a full assessment.”

After the assessment, clients are referred to sources in the community, most often mental health counselors or substance abuse agencies, Price said. Just doing that can be a huge step because people often don’t know where to turn for help.

“We also see a number of patients who are suicidal,” Price said. “So the case managers do an evaluation to try to reduce that risk.”

The center is open 24 hours a day, and the longest a patient can stay during one visit is 23 hours, 59 minutes.

“Some people have had more than one period of care,” Price said. “Some conditions are chronic, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. But many of the clients we see, we help them manage anxiety or recover from depression, and just see them once. We’re keeping them out of the hospital, keeping them living independent, keeping them happy about their lives.”

The benefits

Law enforcement often gets called when a person is having a mental health or substance abuse crisis, and that puts officers under pressure, Pike said.

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“The officers have to make an assessment, and that puts them in a tough position,” Pike said. “If the person hasn’t committed a crime, well do they pose a harm? The officer is in a tough position if something happens after that contact. Right now the only options are to arrest them or put them in a protective custody hold.”

But with a crisis center in the Magic Valley, local law enforcement agencies could refer or take people who are in crisis to the center. In eastern Idaho, 21 law enforcement agencies have referred clients to the crisis center, and according to Price, the officers are seeing the difference.

“When you’re law enforcement, you’re always making judgement calls,” Price said. “Good on them bringing them here, there’s a difference between crime and crisis, and officers are noticing that.”

With the added resource of the crisis center, law enforcement agencies and hospitals in eastern Idaho are saving both time and money.

In just more than a year, Behavioral Health Crisis Center of East Idaho has saved law enforcement agencies an estimated 1,165 hours by referring 259 clients to the center, Price said.

The savings are just as dramatic for hospitals, which have saved an estimated $281,124 in emergency room costs by referring 228 clients to the crisis center, Price said. Hospitals have also helped divert 138 inpatient hospitalizations, saving hospitals an estimated $483,000 on inpatient hospital services.

“This center saves money,” Price said. “We have people who have been homeless and using drugs come in here and decide they want a different life. They get connected. They get a job and become tax payers. You can’t beat that. When they’re functioning at a higher level, they can get housing and stabilize their family. It’s a system savings.”

Those kind of net-positives are what the governor and others look at when spending the money to establish the center. Out of the initial $1.72 million in state money, $200,000 would be earmarked for finding a location and the rest would go toward initial operating expenses.

The role of local government and various community organizations in providing financial support starts with helping the center get set up. In both Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, local groups had to donate items such as construction, furnishings or bedding. The goal, Shanahan said, is for the communities to pay half the operational costs after two years, thus freeing up state money to open more crisis centers.

“Anyone who benefits from having this facility, we’re hoping will see the value of it and help to contribute to the expenses of it,” he said.

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