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For the week of February 14 through 20, 2001

County pledges assistance for mentally ill

"Resources, in our current facility, for the mentally ill are very thin."

Dr. Keith Sivertson
director of St. Luke’s emergency department

Express Staff Writer

Representatives of the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) from all over Idaho got what they came for at Monday’s Blaine County Commissioners meeting.

After listening to the testimony of NAMI members, doctors and the mentally ill, Commissioner Mary Ann Mix addressed the 50 to 55 people who packed the meeting room in the old courthouse.

One by one she repeated the three petitions the advocates for the mentally ill had come with, and then she answered them.

Mix said the commission would reactivate the Mental Health Task Force, and that Commissioner Sarah Michael would be in charge of getting things going. Michael said the group would address the issue of installing crisis beds at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center.

Mix said the commission would review the protocols that regulate protective police custody of the mentally ill. That issue as well will be part of the task force’s agenda.

NAMI is not happy with the current protocols because, the group contends, they put those detained under too much stress.

Mix said the commission gave the group its "intellectual and emotional support" for the installation of crisis beds at St. Luke’s, but in order for the commission to give its unqualified support, it needs to study the "logistics" of such a program.

St. Luke’s now has a "safe room" meant to temporarily hold the mentally ill in police custody until they can be evaluated to determine whether treatment is required. That means the mentally ill suffering heightened symptoms of their disease (in crisis) may not be treated for more than 24 hours.

Crisis beds at St. Luke’s, according to NAMI representatives, would mean the mentally ill in crisis would receive more immediate treatment.

Dr. Keith Sivertson, director of St. Luke’s emergency department, spoke for the hospital after the advocates had finished.

"My concern," he said, "is that we are forgetting that people treat people. I am concerned about this focus on bricks and mortar. Resources, in our current facility, for the mentally ill are very thin."

After agreeing to participate in the mental health task force with NAMI, Sivertson said, "I would offer to you—and this may sound harsh—but every patient brought in by the police is a failure of this community."

He included the hospital in his definition of community, along with NAMI, governmental and regulatory entities in the valley, families and the medical community.

He said if he were given $100 to solve the problem, hypothetically, he would spend most of it on education, identification, treatment and support of the mentally ill.

Whatever was left over of the money he would use for those the community had failed to identify, treat and support.

A member of the audience wanted to know why the hospital didn’t have psychiatrists on staff.

Sivertson said it was a matter of free will. Psychiatrists in the valley "can choose to practice medicine and not be on the hospital’s staff."

His argument was that no one, not even doctors, wants to be on call 24 hours a day and then still be expected to put in his or her regular daytime hours.

"This is why I emphasize the human capital involved here."

He stressed his willingness to find solutions to the problems of the mentally ill, but, he said, "We need to remove the strident talking past each other."


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