Thursday, September 21, 2000
Steamboat Springs Officials at the Yampa Valley Medical Center agree with Routt County Sheriff John Warner's decision to no longer hold in jail intoxicated people who are not suspected of crimes.
Hospital officials came to the conclusion, after meeting with the sheriff twice earlier this year, said Christine McKelvie, a spokeswoman for the hospital.
"It was mutually agreed that jail is not the place for people who need detoxification," McKelvie said. "This decision raises a community-wide issue because there is not a detox center in our area."
The closest detoxification centers are in Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs.
For years, the county jail has taken intoxicated people brought in by the Colorado State Patrol and Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek police departments. The people would be put in jail cells until they sobered up.
Due to the liability involved in caring for intoxicated people in a jail cell, Warner notified officials from the other area law enforcement agencies that his office would no longer hold intoxicated people.
Warner notified his colleagues earlier this month that the policy will change Sunday.
The hospital agrees that the jail is not equipped to care for people who have had too much to drink, McKelvie said.
"The jail does not have the medical facilities," she said. "A jail is not an appropriate place for a detox hold, but there really is not an appropriate place in the county."
Warner made his decision based on a number of factors.
The factors include level of medical training deputies have at the jail, medical expenses that have been incurred by holding intoxicated people, staffing and state statutes.
Warner believes his deputies do not have the medical expertise to decide whether an intoxicated person is safe to be in a jail.
Warner's office also has to pay medical bills for intoxicated people who have had to be taken from the jail to a hospital.
Warner also has the backing of state statutes. He is not obligated to hold person in jail simply because he or she is intoxicated.
With the jail no longer holding intoxicated people, the hospital is not sure whether the number of intoxicated people brought to the hospital will increase, McKelvie said.
"If a person needs to be seen by a doctor, authorities will bring a person directly here," she said. "I'm not sure the number of people we see will increase."
The hospital, though, will not act as a holding place, she said.
"The hospital is not a detox center," she said. "A detox center provides specialized treatment. Taking care of an intoxicated person is time-consuming and they are difficult to treat."
If an intoxicated person is brought to the hospital, medical staff will treat the person while staff looks for an appropriate place for the person.
"The hospital will try and do its best to treat these people, while a detox placement is being sought," she said.
In these cases, the officer who brings in the intoxicated person will be required to stay at the hospital, she said.
Since Warner's decision, J.D. Hays, Steamboat Springs director of public services, has been reviewing options his officers can take when they need to take an intoxicated person into custody.
"We will never ignore our responsibility to people who need help," Hays said.
Options that officers have are to release an intoxicated person to a family member or friend, take the person to the hospital or take the person to a detox center in Grand Junction or Glenwood Springs.
"Our last resort will be to take a person to Grand Junction or Glenwood Springs," Hays said.
The hospital will only be used when a person needs medical attention, Hays said.
"The hospital is a resource," he said. "But the hospital has to be compensated. A lot of these people do not have medical insurance. So who is going to pay for this? We have to look at that."
McKelvie and Hays believe the issue needs to be discussed by the sheriff's office, police departments, medical facilities and the community.
"We need to sit down and talk about this," Hays said.
Currently, Warner is working with Steamboat Mental Health to set up a meeting where the issue can be discussed.
Warner's policy change is only for intoxicated people who are not suspected of committing crimes.
The county jail will continue to hold an intoxicated person in jail who is suspected of committing a crime.
In cases where a suspect is highly intoxicated, the jail will have the arresting agency have the suspect medically cleared before booking that person.
To reach Gary E. Salazar call 871-4205 or e-mail email@example.com