Professionals working with the Treasure Valley’s mentally ill have plenty of ideas for how to better serve the growing number of under-treated people needing care. But most of those ideas require Idaho to increase spending on its strained mental health care system.
A four-member panel fielded questions about the system’s problems and possible solutions Wednesday at Boise State University’s Ron & Linda Yanke Research Park building.
Tami Jones, president and CEO of Idaho Behavioral Health, was one of several panelists frustrated that mental health spending in Idaho was cut in recent years.
“What strikes me is how bureaucratic it’s become; how it’s become more about numbers rather than the health of the people,” Jones said. “So many times, we’re not able to help people because there just aren’t resources. That’s heartbreaking to me.”
The other panelists were Ross Edmunds, administrator for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Division of Behavioral Health; Boise Police Sgt. David Cavanaugh, who manages the department’s Crisis Intervention Team; and Rev. Bill Roscoe, who works with homeless as president and CEO of Boise Rescue Mission.
The panel was an offshoot of the ongoing “In Crisis” series of articles, radio stories and videos produced by the Idaho Statesman’s Audrey Dutton and Boise State Public Radio’s Emilie Ritter Saunders, who moderated the panel discussion. The series continues through Friday.
Roscoe said his Mission provides limited mental health services for the homeless on a $45,000 annual budget. He sees more homeless suffering from mental illness than the Mission can treat, including vulnerable, single mothers.
“When we have a person in crisis, the only place to go is jail or a few beds at Saint Al’s,” Roscoe said. “It’s swimming upstream already. People are in and out, in and out, back in their pain and misery.”
Cavanaugh said police officers responding to incidents involving mentally ill people are stuck with poor options: take them to the hospital, or take them to jail.
“Or, worse yet, they don’t meet requirements, so we have to leave them like we found them: in crisis, but with no real solution.”
Several panelists said expanding Medicaid in Idaho would broaden the pool of people qualifying for care as well as funding to provide services and treatment. However, the conservative Idaho Legislature has been unwilling to expand Medicaid, Jones said.
Edmunds said more lawmakers are serious about addressing the system’s problems than in previous years, but progress is slow.
“Sometimes, we get in the way of helping people,” Edmunds said. “That, like many other things in the system, relies heavily on politics.”
Zach Kyle: 377-6464