Options for detox services limited in Garfield County
December 27, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The options are very limited for drunks in this area who need a place to sleep it off, get medical attention or find help dealing with their condition, as even those in charge of providing such services will agree.
Among those options are some time in jail, a trip to a local hospital or, for now, a night in a small room attached to the Garfield County Jail and reserved for this purpose.
The room, as recently described by locals concerned about the situation, had two “beds,” which resembled plastic toboggans bearing mattresses; access to a toilet and a sink in an adjoining room; and a desk at which a counselor from the Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center can sit and supervise the individual or individuals for up to 10 hours.
The only shower facility available was a plastic bladder filled with water that could be hung from the ceiling of the bathroom, similar to what is known as a “camp shower.”
The Colorado West website refers to its detox program as a “nonmedical” service that offers patients an “acute care program to withdraw from drugs and/or alcohol” for as much as a 10-day stay. But the typical duration of a stay in the room at the jail is no longer than 10 hours.
“It’s certainly not an ideal way to do detox,” conceded Sharon Raggio, executive director of Colorado West, who explained that the organization has established a much larger, more comprehensive detox center in its Grand Junction facility.
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Colorado West provides the counselors to staff the room in the jail on an as-needed basis, and two local women recently complained about the matter to the Post Independent.
“We need a detox here,” declared Shane Boydstun, who, with her friend, bail bondsman Julie Hill, recently took a woman to the detox facility attached to the jail and was shocked by what she saw.
“She was near death when we found her,” Hill said of the woman, who was not identified during an interview.
The woman, according to Boydstun and Hill, was free from jail on bond for her third drunk driving arrest, and had only one operating lung, which meant she was breathing with the help of oxygen in a tank.
They encountered her after she’d spent a night drinking, they said. A blood test, Hill said, showed a blood-alcohol content of .286, more than three times the level considered too drunk to drive in Colorado.
Hill, who said she once ran a sober house in another state, said of the detox facility at the jail, “The conditions there made me think, ‘This is almost punitive. You’re being punished for being an alcoholic.'”
Pointing out that alcoholism is a disease, not a crime, she continued, “Would they treat a cancer patient this way? Would they treat a kidney-dialysis patient this way? No!”
Law enforcement officials and mental health advocates in the area have complained for decades about the lack of consistent detox facilities in the region, and for a time Colorado West maintained a much larger, better equipped detox center at its complex on Highway 82 south of Glenwood Springs.
But, said Raggio, a loss of state funding and other financial problems meant that facility had to be closed down and the operation moved to the jail.
Even when the better equipped, six-bed center was open, she said, “The challenge was that we did not have the volume.”
Even in a district with a population of around 50,000 people, she said, the average daily census of the detox center, which could house up to six, was one person.
State requirements called for two staff members, who had to be certified addiction counselors, to be on hand whenever the facility was open.
So, Raggio said, there were too many times when the facility and the staff would be open for business but “with nobody requiring the services.”
As a result, she said, “Colorado West was losing approximately $200,000 a year in operating this detox,” even with financial help from area municipalities, hospitals and other entities.
She said budgetary priorities forced local providers to switch from the six-bed “free-standing detox model” to an “on-call, jail-based model” using a room provided by the Garfield County sheriff’s office.
“There really are some better ways to do detox,” she admitted, explaining that the “jail-based detox basically offers a community public safety. The focus is on public safety and having people be off the streets.”
She said area mental health officials are working to come up with something better, explaining, “The concept was, the jail-based detox would be an interim step.”
Since Colorado West shut down its six-bed facility and switched to the jail-based model in October, she said there have been community meetings to talk about the matter, and more meetings will be held in the future.
But for now, she said, the jail-based detox is all the community can come up with.