Idaho Lawmakers Give Nod to Creation of Mental Health Crisis Centers

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A landmark bill, which would set Idaho in a new direction to assist those struggling with a mental health crisis, received bipartisan support today in the Idaho Senate.

"This sets a new policy for a path to the future in how we handle mental health crises," said Huston Republican Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1352, which calls for the creation of a network of regional behavioral health community crisis centers.

But the measure doesn't stipulate that funding is assured for the centers, which would be defined by each community.

"We're talking about policy here and appropriation is done in another body and, yes, we'll be voting on that," Moscow Democratic Sen. Dan Schmidt assured his colleagues. "The question we need to be focusing on is, 'Do we as a state have a plan for dealing with mental health?' The part I like most about this bill is that it moves us in the right direction."

A number of lawmakers shared stories from their constituents who struggled with their own crisis and how the current system puts an undue burden on Idaho law enforcement, who must choose between bringing people in a crisis to an emergency room or a jail.

Ketchum Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett told her colleagues that a friend of hers had gone into a rural health center because he was experiencing severe seizing.

"But that rural medical facility didn't have the staff to give a proper diagnosis and they unknowingly overmedicated him. He went into a psychotic episode," said Stennett. "And they couldn't transfer him to another facility unless he was restrained and accompanied by police. Law enforcement finally had to transport him for four hours to the closest facility, and when he came off of the drug, he wonder where he was and what the heck had happened. This is just one example of something that got out of control and shouldn't have."

The plan is to create 24/7 crisis centers, established as community entities. Some may be affiliated with hospitals or other for-profit or nonprofit caregivers. The crisis centers are a companion piece of legislation to a package of so-called "justice reinvestment" bills, seeking to reform Idaho's criminal justice system.

Ultimately the Idaho Senate voted 28 to 6 to approve the measure, sending it to the House for its consideration.