TWIN FALLS — Nearly 1,000 people have walked through the doors of the Crisis Center of South Central Idaho seeking help since it first opened last November, according to the Twin Falls-based center’s first annual report.
Employees of the center, which offers support, resources, and a temporary place to stay to people experiencing a mental health or substance abuse crisis, say it’s been a year full of surprises, challenges, and growth.
The one-year report, released this week, offers a snapshot of the center’s progress thus far. A total of 2,497 visits were logged between November 2016 and November 2017, with 941 clients served — many repeat visitors. Most suffered from a combination of mental health and substance abuse issues, and the vast majority came from Twin Falls.
The Crisis Center of South Central Idaho was the third such state-funded center opened in Idaho, following centers in Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene. A fourth is opening in Boise this week.
While the centers in Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene served as helpful models, those running the South Central Idaho operation soon found that the Twin Falls area came with its own unique challenges, said clinical director Kim Dopson.
One of the biggest challenges, Dopson said, has been helping patients secure housing outside of the center, as the city has a small — but growing — selection of transitional housing services.
A lack of public transportation has also proved an obstacle when it comes to clients who are seeking work but don’t own a car, said Tiffany Warren, a licensed professional counselor at the center.
“That’s a big barrier when we’re referring them to resources,” Warren said, adding that the crisis center pays for a limited number of taxi vouchers.
When it opened, the center was touted as a place where police could bring people in the midst of a mental health or addiction crisis as an alternative to jail or the hospital. In the first year, 226 clients were brought to the center by law enforcement, according to the annual report.
“There was nothing like it previously,” said Lori Stewart, spokeswoman for the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. “Running across people that needed immediate assistance, we really didn’t have any options.”
“We’ve used it quite a bit and have been really pleased with the outcome,” Stewart said.
While bringing someone to the hospital can take up to eight to 10 hours of an officer’s time, the crisis center can make an evaluation in as little as half an hour, Dopson said.
Neither the crisis center nor the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office were able to provide definitive numbers on the cost of savings over the past year, but the center estimates that it saves the legal system $1,200 per visit and the emergency room $2,000 per visit.
The vast majority of visitors to the center — 1,911 — came from Twin Falls County, with Jerome County providing 160 clients and Gooding County 116. An additional 157 in-state clients came from outside the Magic Valley region, and 93 came from out of state.
A significant chunk of clients from outside the Magic Valley were people recently released from St. Luke’s Canyon View Behavioral Health Services, Dopson said.
“In metro areas the psychiatric beds are full, so the hospital will transfer them down to be on a legal hold at Canyon View and evaluated,” Dopson explained. “If the designated examiner says, ‘Nope, you don’t need to stay, you’re competent,’ they don’t have a way to get back.”
“We didn’t see that one coming,” she added.
Despite the challenges, it’s been rewarding to see recovering clients come back to visit the center, Warren said: “Now that we’ve been open for a year, we’ve had the opportunity to build trust with clients where we can help them before the point of crisis.”
A new, affiliated operation known as the Recovery Center will make it easier for former clients to keep in touch. The Recovery Center, which is funded federally through state dollars, opened quietly in the same building as the Crisis Center last month.
At the Recovery Center, people recovering from mental health or substance abuse issues can find free, sober activities and support from volunteers who have survived similar situations.
“It’s another place for people to go,” Dopson said, “when they don’t feel like they need to come stay here and see a counselor, but they need somebody who understands.”