COEUR d'ALENE - Gov. Butch Otter is expected to announce this morning that Idaho Falls will be the first city in the state to receive a new Behavioral Health Community Crisis Center.
Some North Idaho lawmakers believe that Coeur d'Alene was the frontrunner in a three-way competition for the facility, but lost because the Kootenai County legislative delegation was split in its support for the facility.
Earlier this year, the Legislature approved the construction of three Behavior Health Community Crisis Centers in Idaho, but will only fund one center per year.
The Legislature appropriated $2.1 million to fund the center and asked three communities to compete for the first center.
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene, said he supported the project because he knows the drag that mental health issues have on communities.
As a former prosecutor, a sitting legislator and from his role with Heritage Health, Malek knows firsthand what a facility like that would have meant to the community.
"Those who didn't support this didn't take the time to learn what the fiscal impact not having this will have on our community," he said, adding it affects law enforcement, the hospital, Panhandle Health District, the courts and Heritage Health, to name a few.
The Behavioral Health Crisis Centers operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. They provide an environment to de-escalate mental health patients or substance abusers who are in crisis. It is an outpatient service that would take the pressure off emergency rooms, courts and jails, Malek explained.
Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, who sat on the governor's health care task force that recommended the centers, said he thought Coeur d'Alene was the frontrunner.
"It sounds like because of the antics some of our legislators were engaged in, we lost out," Goedde said, adding that he had just heard the news Wednesday.
"There was a selection committee from health and welfare that went through the applications and ranked them," Goedde said. "It is my understanding that the committee ranked them and sent a recommendation to the governor's office.
"It would be interesting to find out how Coeur d'Alene ranked in that process," he said. "I think Idaho Falls got it because their delegation supported it."
Niki Forbing-Orr, a spokesperson for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, said she could not discuss the decision process other than to say it was the department's decision on where to locate the first center.
She said the committee did make a recommendation and that was sent to the governor, but ultimately it was the department's decision to choose the location.
"I cannot confirm anything else," she said, adding that she would be sending out a media advisory announcing a press conference today to reveal which city would get the new center.
That advisory said Otter would make an important announcement at the Idaho Falls Airport today at 8:30 a.m.
Otter's Communications Director Mark Warbis didn't return phone calls regarding the center on Wednesday.
Rep. Ed Morse, R-Hayden, said he had heard the news on Wednesday as well. He voted to support the center because he felt it made good fiscal sense.
Morse said the legislative debate on the issue focused on how the centers would save taxpayer dollars by providing mental health care cheaper than the hospital emergency rooms, courtrooms and jails.
"There is a real critical need for that up here," Morse said. "It keeps people with mental health and substance-abuse problems out of emergency rooms and jails."
He said the opposition argued that it was an expansion of an entitlement program, but he doesn't see it that way.
"This isn't about expansion of entitlements," he said. "It just became a political thing."
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, opposed the project.
"The expense was my overall concern," he said. "It would have been nice to see that built up here, but there are a number of mental health programs and clinics up here."
He thinks that weighed on the IDHW decision to locate the first facility in Idaho Falls.
"That is the reason it went there," he said. "I don't believe the decision was political at all."
Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Post Falls, also opposed the centers, but he believes the decision to build in Idaho Falls could have been political.
"That clearly is a possibility," he said. "North Idaho didn't support Gov. Otter in the primary, and sometime that's just how these things work."
Mendive said he couldn't support the Behavioral Health Community Crisis Center program because it was an expansion of government.
"That would have been my primary opposition to this," he said. "There just isn't enough money to go around."
He conceded that the supporters of the center had a viable argument, but he just couldn't support the program because it was expanding the bureaucracy.
"I think part of that legislation was to create an oversight committee," Mendive said. "Every time you turn around, the government is creating a new agency, or board or commission.
"The bureaucracy continues to grow," he added. "And we have less and less legislative oversight."
He believes the private sector is a better solution to government.
Neither Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene; nor Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d'Alene, returned phone messages Wednesday. They both voted against the centers as well.
Morse said he believes that level of opposition certainly played a role in the state's decision.
"It becomes a huge risk when the community's representatives didn't support it," Morse said. "There is a logical disconnect with some of these legislators that believe voting 'no' on everything is a good strategy, but at some point they have to start analyzing issues, solving problems and determine the needs of the community and what is cost-effective in government."