Steamboat Springs Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Medical Center may be asked to open their pocketbooks to fund a local alternative to a detoxification facility.
Representatives from medical, mental health, social services and law enforcement agencies in the county met Tuesday to discuss plans to handle the growing number of alcohol and drug abuse cases.
The Yampa Valley Medical Center incurred $158,000 last year in charges for emergency care for intoxicated patients. Some of those patients were sick enough to require hospital admittance, but many others only tied up medical staff.
The local law enforcement and medical communities struggle with how to handle people who are found intoxicated and shouldn't be left alone.
Under the plan discussed Tuesday, the workgroup is considering asking the county, city and hospital each to contribute about $1,500 monthly to help fund a full-time staffer to screen patients brought to the Routt County Jail.
The staff person would screen patients to determine if their condition requires medical attention at the hospital. Patients whose condition is deemed safe would remain under supervision in a holding cell at the jail until they sober up and can receive counseling.
The plan is modeled after Moffat County's STEP program, which was implemented in 1999 to eliminate unnecessary trips to the emergency room. There, officers take people who are arrested or detained while under the influence of drugs or alcohol to a STEP nurse at Moffat County's public safety center. While the nurse examines the patient to determine whether medical care is warranted, the officer books the patient into the jail if criminal charges are involved.
The Rout County workgroup seeks a similar partnership between Yampa Valley Medical Center and local law enforcement.
Participants Tuesday discussed how partnering agencies could fairly share the program's operational costs.
"It's easier to dump it on each other and say it's not my problem," said Bob White, director of the Routt County Human Services Department.
Instead, partnering agencies are looking for a way to share the solution, he said.
With joint funding from the agencies, the workgroup would like to hire someone who has mental health qualifications and a background in emergency medical care to screen patients at the jail. A full-time nurse is not feasible, White said.
In the case of multiple patients requiring detox supervision, the workgroup is looking at other locations, such as a hotel room, to place patients when the holding cell is occupied.
County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak suggested the workgroup view the tentative plan as an experiment. It should give a better picture of what works and what doesn't work in running a detoxification program, she said.
The workgroup would like to run the trial program from Feb. 15 to June 30.
"It seems to me we all have a vested interest in making it work," Stahoviak said.