Mental hold facility work continues

Local cities, counties have committed funds to proposed project

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Kootenai County is closer to creating a regional mental hold facility, with a building selected for lease and funding committed by local governments.

"I'm very positive about how far we've come recently," said Commissioner Jai Nelson, adding that she hopes to see the facility running in a year.

Kootenai Medical Center has identified a building on its campus to lease to the county for a hold program, replacing the prior idea of building a new structure for more than $1 million.

And after soliciting nearby counties and cities, Nelson said local governments have committed $188,000 so far to help operate the facility, which would house individuals picked up by law enforcement because of substance or mental issues.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has also agreed to pursue state funds for the project, on the condition that those local governments contribute.

"I'm realizing we probably can't do this on our own," Nelson said of pursuing state funds.

The aim is to create a separate facility for individuals under police holds, to relieve the county and KMC of costs to house them at the hospital. The facility would also save law enforcement the overtime and manpower to watch over the individuals while waiting for hospital beds.

"It's going to be a more cost-effective solution," Nelson said.

KMC could lease a section of a building to the county, confirmed Carmen Brochu, chief nursing officer, though the space could cost $400,000 to $500,000 to renovate.

Nelson said operational expenses are projected at $391,104 annually.

"We're still looking for grants, we haven't stopped," Nelson said. "We're looking for grants, local dollars, state funding."

So far, Kootenai County has committed $140,000 for the hold facility, Shoshone County $8,000, Bonner County $35,000 and the city of Coeur d'Alene $5,000.

Mike Kennedy, Coeur d'Alene city councilman, said the city's offer is a one-year commitment.

"It really is the county's responsibility. I'm not sure how much the city will fund in the future," he said, referring to the state mandate that counties fund police holds.

The $5,000 is roughly what the city pays in police overtime for holds, Kennedy said.

If the facility helps reduce that, the city will have a "specific place to go within" to give the operation more dollars, he added.

Shoshone County Commissioner Jon Cantamessa said his county is eager to pitch in.

Law enforcement from his area gets tied up watching over individuals in holds at KMC, he said.

"It's very difficult for these outlying rural areas," Cantamessa said.

He has doubts about the new facility happening, though.

"We've made several attempts before," he said of a regional facility. "Just not enough funding. Even a program that's very efficiently operated, it's pretty expensive to run it."

Ross Edmunds, IDHW behavioral health administrator, said he would request state funds for the facility, though how much depends on what local governments pitch in.

"Funding these days is not a given, and this would be redirecting existing resources," Edmunds cautioned of state dollars. "The governor and Legislature would have to weigh in on their support."

KMC experienced more than 300 police holds last year, according to Brochu.

Kootenai County spent $314,998 in the 2011 fiscal year on police holds.

The proposed facility would serve all five northern counties.

Edmunds said similar projects have been successful, when local governments join forces.

"These sorts of locally driven opportunities to enhance the system make a lot of sense," he said.

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