Cd'A had top score for state crisis center

Politics blamed for facility going to Idaho Falls

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COEUR d'ALENE - North Idaho won, yet lost.

Coeur d'Alene was frontrunner - by a slight margin - for a mental health crisis center, according to committee evaluations obtained by The Press through a public records request. But despite the overall high score, a lack of legislative support killed Coeur d'Alene's chance to land the first state-funded mental health crisis center, Gov. Butch Otter's office confirmed Tuesday.

North Idaho supporters have maintained Coeur d'Alene stood above the competition for the center, but that politics ultimately led to Idaho Falls being chosen instead.

There's still some hope for the future, however.

"The placement of additional centers depends on the success of this initial effort," Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanian, said. "'Success' will include receiving continued financial support, which in turn will require having local legislative champions."

With North Idaho legislators Kathy Sims, Vito Barbieri, Bob Nonini and Ron Mendive voting nay, a bill to fund three mental health crisis centers was approved last session. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, however, voted to fund just one and take a wait-and-see approach to funding others.

Hanian said Tuesday that Otter supports the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare's choice of Idaho Falls for the first center "based on a proven level of legislative support in eastern Idaho."

Boise was also in the running for $2.1 million in funding for the crisis center.

Idaho's Department of Health and Welfare initially wouldn't say which community scored higher, only that the scores were close and the department made the decision after conferring with Otter.

Hanian said Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene were in a "dead heat."

"The fact that a majority of legislators in eastern Idaho wanted the project helped in the final decision," Hanian said.

The evaluations and scoring of a three-person committee, obtained by The Press on Monday, revealed the scores were indeed very close.

The weighted scores and percentages had Coeur d'Alene ahead of Twin Falls by just 2.5 of 300 possible points, or less than one percentage point.

Three organizations responded to the state's request for information on a proposed North Idaho Crisis Center: Kootenai Health, Lifeways and WestCare Foundation.

Kootenai Health submitted a 200-page proposal for a center which would be located in existing, remodeled space on the Kootenai Health campus. Annual operating costs for the 16- to 20-bed facility were estimated at $1.7 million.

About 6,000 people could be served each year, according to Kootenai Health.

Lifeways, a private nonprofit corporation with facilities in Oregon, pitched a facility that would cost about $1 million to $1.2 million per year. The WestCare Foundation also expressed interest with a proposal that would cost about $2.1 million annually.

Kootenai Health's proposal included letters of support from county commissioners and sheriffs of Idaho's five northern counties.

A crisis facility locally could reduce "inappropriate use of the Emergency Room," decrease the number of short-term hospital admissions and decrease the number of citizens experiencing mental health crises who are taken to jail, according to the proposal.

A crisis center would provide around-the-clock crisis intervention, stays as long as 24 hours, and services like case management, planning for ongoing treatment, medication assistance, primary care and linking patients with social services.

"There is great need in all three communities for a behavioral health crisis center," Hanian said. "The community coalitions made that abundantly clear in their proposals and letters of support, which made the final decision difficult."

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