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For the week of December 6 through 12, 2000

Hospital encouraged to aid mentally ill

Express Staff Writer

St. Luke’s 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 problem.

St. Luke’s public relations manager Kerry George said, "We are committed to working with Tewa Evans [and NAMI Wood River Valley] and the community on this issue."

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 person’s 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. Luke’s since she helped form the valley’s 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 sheriff’s 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. Luke’s 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. Luke’s 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.


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