Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Offering peace of mind

Mental health services could expand

Express Staff Writer

A county mental health task force may have found a solution to the fallout from the closing of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare office in Bellevue last year, county and hospital staff said Monday.

Task force Co-Chairs Tim Graves, county chief deputy prosecuting attorney, and Erin Pfaeffle, manager of St. Luke's Center for Community Health, told the Blaine County commissioners that St. Luke's in Hailey could soon house a free mental health clinic with a full range of psychiatric services.

"It just makes sense with the way that clinic is progressing from a multi-care standpoint," Pfaeffle said. "We're trying to fill a need."

The clinic would serve many of the patients who were left without care when the Bellevue office closed. Only seven of the 90 patients that office served were willing to travel to Twin Falls to continue treatment.

Graves said the loss of those services has resulted in a rise in the number of involuntary commitment cases filed with the county court, and the costs of that hospitalization—$130,000 to date for 2011—have fallen on the county.

Current plans for the new clinic are intern-based, under which a supervising psychiatrist would oversee two interns working toward certification.

Graves said this model would allow the clinic to save money while treating more patients, perhaps as many as 300 countywide.

"That was the bare-bones model we were working with, the way we saw of meeting this need," Graves said.

However, Pfaeffle said the clinic will likely lose money. Some clients would pay for services through Medicare or Medicaid or health insurance, but she said people in need of mental services often can't pay for the help they need.

"St. Luke's has to serve anyone who comes in the door," Pfaeffle said. "Do we know there are people who can't afford to pay for mental health services? Yes. We just have to come up with as solid a business plan as we can for somewhat of a losing proposition."

Commissioner Angenie McCleary said she supported the idea of a free mental health clinic. Currently, the county only provides services for people who have been involuntarily committed through court order, in a process McCleary called "crisis management."

"The county provides a valuable service with this crisis model, but we're putting a huge expense and a huge amount of resources into something that, in my opinion, isn't helping address the real problem," she said.

Pfaeffle said the clinic will likely request funding from the county next year, but the amount and whether the county would contract for services with St. Luke's has yet to be determined.

Everything is still in development, she said, but the basic concept is mostly in place.

"It's all just figures now," she said.

Katherine Wutz:

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