State regulations force closure of detox centers
To qualify to be brought into detox, a person must meet two criteria:
1. Severely intoxicated, and,
2. Pose a danger to the health and safety of themselves or others.
VAIL — A state agency’s newest round of red tape has strangled detox centers in two resort counties.
Colorado’s Office of Behavioral Health’s new regulations doubled the cost of running detox centers. The result is that centers in Eagle and Routt counties will close, said Mind Springs Health, which operates the detox centers.
Eagle County’s detox center closed Friday. It was housed in the Vail Police Department. Detox centers in Pitkin and Summit counties are also teetering on the brink of extinction, but will stay open for the immediate future, said Jackie Skramstad, Mind Springs’ regional director.
Back to jail
In Eagle County, local law enforcement will revert to its practice of eight years ago: If you need to detox from alcohol and/or drugs, you’ll do it in a jail cell, said Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger.
“We’re disappointed,” Henninger said. “We don’t deal with mental health as we should in this country, so people call the police because that’s who will show up at 2 a.m.”
“Intoxication and substance abuse is not a crime but a health issue,” Henninger said.
Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek said the local jail doesn’t have the staff or space for a detox center. Some local prisoners are being shipped to neighboring counties, van Beek said.
State agency just says no
The Office of Behavioral Health handed down new rules that prohibit having just one counselor with detox patients. Counselors with Mind Springs Health monitor people in detox and asked the state agency for permission to stick with one counselor, since the Vail center rarely had more than one or two clients.
After a site visit July 15, the Office of Behavioral Health said no, an edict that effectively doubled Mind Springs’ operating costs in the Eagle County center — to $279,904.
Mind Springs doesn’t have the money to meet the state’s requirement, Skramstad said. Its funding partners — Eagle County Public Health, Avon Police, Eagle Police, Eagle County Paramedics and Vail Valley Medical Center — could not pay any more, either.
The money for Eagle County’s detox center ran out at 5 p.m. Friday, said Nanami Matsui with Mind Springs.
“The (Office of Behavioral Health) wants two counselors, even with one client,” Matsui said.
Routt County’s detox center in Steamboat Springs has only one bed, but still has to come up with two or more counselors under the new regulations.
“Detox has been funded by the communities. There’s no state money, and the increased staffing requirements push the operating expenses beyond what the partners in Eagle and Routt counties can afford,” Skramstad said.
There are ongoing conversations about how to meet the need, Skramstad said.
The Office of Behavior Health did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting comment.
Helping those who need it
Henninger said Eagle County’s detox program had four immediate benefits:
Increased access to substance use treatment.
Fewer police calls for intoxicated people.
Fewer intoxicated people showing up in hospital emergency rooms.
Fewer of those intoxicated people wanting ambulance rides to get to those emergency rooms.
Reverting to putting intoxicated people in a jail cell increases liability, especially for agencies that do not have 24-hour staffed facilities. It also reduces progress in helping those with addictions in Eagle County, Henninger said in a letter to the Vail Town Council.
“Without a better solution, the law enforcement response to intoxicated parties in Eagle County will likely return to placing parties in a jail cell with no follow up,” Henninger said in his letter.
The Vail Town Council will begin talking about this during Tuesday’s afternoon session.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.