Hospital encouraged to aid mentally ill
By PETER BOLTZ
Express Staff Writer
St. Lukes Wood River Medical Center and the local chapter of the
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) are exploring avenues to provide more local
aid to the mentally ill when they have a crisis.
Tewa Evans, president of the Wood River Valley NAMI chapter, said she is
willing to work with the hospital and the community in forming a coalition to address the
St. Lukes public relations manager Kerry George said, "We are
committed to working with Tewa Evans [and NAMI Wood River Valley] and the community on
The problem boils down to there being no place in the valley to treat the
mentally ill in crisis.
Being in crisis is another way of saying a mentally ill persons
symptoms worsen to the point he or she needs psychiatric hospital care.
Blaine County has never had a psychiatric facility to care for those
patients, Sun Valley Police Chief Cam Daggett said.
"Right now we have a system that works, but inefficiently," he
said. Crisis patients "end up being transported to Boise because this is where the
nearest crisis beds are that the county has contracted with."
Evans has been promoting the idea of having crisis beds in St. Lukes
since she helped form the valleys NAMI group at the beginning of November.
Evans describes a crisis bed as a bed in a regular hospital room with
nursing care specifically for mentally ill patients suffering a crisis. Here patients can
receive immediate and appropriate treatment to begin recovery.
She said having a couple of local crisis beds is not only more efficient
use of county resources, but it is more compassionate for the patients who often go hours
suffering without medical aid.
Local police officials, who are currently responsible for transporting
these patients to Boise, agree.
"The best thing for someone in crisis is not to be in a patrol car
for three hours," said Blaine County Sheriff Walt Femling.
Besides his concern for the patients, Femling is also concerned about the
time periods, road conditions, and costs of transporting patients to Boise.
Typically, he said, transfers are done between midnight and 9 a.m., a
period when road conditions may be dangerous in winter.
An additional cost of transporting patients, he said, is the time officers
spend away from other duties.
Between Oct. 1, 1999, and Sept. 30, 2000, the sheriffs department
logged 570 hours and 15,955 miles in transporting the mentally ill in crisis to a Boise
facility. The cost to the county was $14,000.
A number of county and state officials have joined Evans campaign
urging better care and crisis beds for the mentally ill in the Wood River Valley.
Former Blaine County prosecuting attorney Fritz Haemmerle said "our
health care in this community needs to treat all cases of mental illness, including those
in crisis states."
Kevin Broender, program directer of Project Respect in Hailey, stated that
"St. Lukes of the Wood River Valley would be filling a void that exists in this
community if they were able to provide short-term crisis beds."
Others who have come forward to support the campaign include Premaup
Streiker, a Hailey psychotherapist; Sandra Hyde, a Ketchum psychotherapist; Lee Woodland,
executive director of NAMI Idaho; and Mary Robertson, project director for NAMI Idaho
Education and Training.
But before crisis beds can become available at St. Lukes more
discussion is needed, George said.
She said the hospital cannot provide crisis beds at present because it is
not licensed as a psychiatric facility. Nor does it have the staff, the pharmacy, a
lockable ward, nor other things necessary for care of the mentally ill.
Evans said she intends to work with the hospital in forming a coalition to
help address those obstacles.