A year ago, there weren't many options for people having mental or substance abuse crises.
Many Routt County residents in difficult times -- whether a 60-year-old woman suffering from thoughts of suicide or a depressed teenager who hit a breaking point -- would face a five-plus hour drive to the state mental hospital in Pueblo, handcuffed in the back of a police car, if they couldn't be stabilized by their families or friends.
People who were severely intoxicated or suffering from another substance abuse incident typically were taken by police to the emergency room at Yampa Valley Medical Center to sober up, which cost the hospital thousands of dollars.
Now, there are better options.
With funding from local and state governments, as well as other groups, Routt County's detox center and the regional Crisis Stabilization Unit, in the Moffat County Public Safety Center, will operate through 2004.
Medical, mental health, social service and law enforcement agencies in Routt County worked together to create and support the programs.
The detox center and Crisis Stabilization Unit offer an intermediate level of help -- between what family and friends can provide, and what expensive trips to the emergency room or state mental hospital provide -- to people going through mental health or substance abuse crises, said Tom Gangel. Gangel is the area division director of Steamboat Mental Health, which is the lead agency for the county's detox center. Steamboat Mental Health and Craig Mental Health are leaders for the Crisis Stabilization Unit.
Since the detox program opened in February, about 30 people have been able to sober up at the center instead of in the emergency room at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
The center is a space at the Routt County Jail where someone who is intoxicated can go and safely get sober while being monitored by staff from Steamboat Mental Health.
With the availability of the detox center, only people so intoxicated that their condition demands medical attention need to go to the hospital.
That saves some of the roughly $200,000 the hospital previously spent each year in emergency costs for people who showed up intoxicated and have to stay for hours until they can function normally, Gangel said.
The Crisis Stabilization Unit is designed for people having a psychiatric crisis, such as being suicidal, homicidal or gravely disabled. A person in that situation is taken to the unit, which is at the Moffat County Public Safety Center, where they are held for one to three days and assisted by psychiatric clinicians so they can stabilize. If a person does not stabilize within that time, he or she is transported to the state hospital in Pueblo.
Since the Crisis Stabilization Unit started in late 2002, 27 people from Routt and Moffat counties have been admitted, only two of whom later had to be transported to the state hospital.
"I would say both programs are operating the way we had intended to operate," Gangel said.
Committed funding should ensure the programs continue to operate.
Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Medical Center each contributed $6,500 to the program this year.
Each group has committed $19,000 for 2004, a total of $57,000.
Moffat County has committed $40,000 for 2004, a lower amount because the county already has its own detox center, Gangel said.
Minimal amounts might be contributed by Rio Blanco and Jackson counties, who have not yet sent a resident to the stabilization unit.
The state's $100,000 contribution also is important, Gangel said. That money is to help make up for beds that were closed at the state hospital in the fall of 2002 because of funding cuts.
Funding for the programs means it is likely there will be more success stories.
"Some folks have come out of detox who have been maybe on a three-, or four- or five-month binge, and they've come out of our detox center and are a productive part of our community," Gangel said, adding that many of those people return to the center to express their thanks. "I think it's really been successful."
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