Idaho needs to up its game in providing behavioral health services. These clinics could help.
Idaho should adopt an approach now being used in 42 other states, writes guest columnist Jim Jones.
There is a chronic shortage of behavioral health resources in Idaho. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that about 100,000 Idaho adults had an unmet need for mental health treatment in 2018-19.
Children fare no better in the Gem State. Idaho has received a 46th place ranking among the states for child access to mental health care. The Idaho suicide rate hit a record high of 420 in 2020. Suicide calls have seen an uptick in Boise, and most likely across the state, since the first of the year. There were 250 reported drug deaths in Idaho in 2018. These problems have intensified since the onset of the pandemic.
There is a critical lack of crisis intervention help for people with serious mental health or drug abuse problems, particularly for those without insurance coverage or other financial resources. People who need immediate help are often turned away because existing crisis response facilities are already crowded. Sometimes, the only alternative is to call in law enforcement officers, many of whom are not trained to deal with mental health and other crisis issues.
To its credit, the state has begun to reduce the behavioral health deficit with regional behavioral health centers but there is a long way to go to meet the need. The Idaho court system has contributed with its problem-solving courts. Drug courts, mental health courts, and veteran treatment courts have been instrumental in helping people deal with mental issues and drug abuse.
The problem is that these services are only available to those caught up in the justice system. So many people in Idaho who are not yet in legal trouble but who need similar support simply cannot find it.
Idaho should adopt an approach now being used in 42 other states, including every state that borders Idaho except Wyoming. That is, establishment of what are called Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics. This program has produced good results in making mental health and substance abuse services available to many localities across the country on an around-the-clock basis.
The certified clinics have been established in all but eight states to help address the shortage of resources. They provide 24-hour crisis care and evidence-based services to anyone in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment services, regardless of ability to pay. That saves lives and, by providing for intervention before situations reach truly crisis proportions, government dollars.
The certified clinics program began in 2014 as a Medicaid demonstration project in eight states and later expanded to include a grant program. Because of favorable results, it has gained rare bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress. Legislation has recently been introduced to expand the program and put it on sounder financial footing. The legislation, called the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Act of 2021 (Senate Bill 2069), is co-sponsored by Republican Sens. Roy Blunt, Jodi Ernst and Steve Daines and Democrat Sens. Ron Wyden, Jon Tester and Catherine Cortez Masto, among others.
The certified clinics would significantly improve Idaho’s ability to deliver behavioral health services within its borders, and grant those in crisis situations immediate access to those services, without consideration of their ability to pay.
All we need to get things started is for Idaho’s U.S. senators to sign onto the legislation and support its funding. The governor’s implementation of the program would seal the deal.