Mental health facility one step closer

Funding for $1.7 million center passed by JFAC committee

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COEUR d'ALENE - Funding for a $1.7 million mental health crisis center for North Idaho passed through a key committee Friday and will soon go before the full House and Senate.

"I was pretty excited to get that passed," said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d'Alene. "It will be pretty interesting to see what my colleagues will do when it hits the floor."

The funding is part of the Department of Health and Welfare's $36.7 million budget, passed by the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee.

Budget language specifies that the center will be located in North Idaho, which could be anywhere in Region 1, which is the five northern counties, or Region 2, which is the Moscow and Lewiston area.

Malek, who sits on JFAC, said Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, attempted to remove the crisis center funding before the bill passed, but only one other committee member Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, agreed with her.

"Her motion came first and failed," Malek said, adding she wanted to wait and see how well Idaho's first crisis center in Idaho Falls works.

Malek said the state has already seen how the crisis center can save money by diverting mental health patients away from the jails and emergency rooms.

"We have also seen how this model works in other states," Malek said, which apparently convinced the committee to pass the budget unanimously.

The Idaho Falls crisis center was funded last year and another center is expected to be funded next year. Coeur d'Alene scored the highest need for the first center, but a political decision was made to build it in Idaho Falls instead.

This year Malek was able to include legislative intent language in the appropriation bill that limits the possible location of the center in North Idaho.

Malek said he had to include the Moscow and Lewiston area to secure the votes he needed to get the funding bill through the committee.

The intent language says: "It is the intent of the Legislature that $1,720,000 of the amount provided in section 1 of this act, is for a Behavioral Health Crisis Center, to be located in Health and Welfare Region 1 or Region 2. The communities have demonstrated the need for additional behavioral health services and the willingness to support a behavioral health crisis center."

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