BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little and other state officials on Tuesday highlighted one of the state’s largest-ever investments in behavioral health care.
The Republican governor in a ceremonial event that included Idaho Supreme Court justices and lawmakers marked the $50 million approved by the Legislature in a series of appropriations bills this year that Little has already signed into law.
“Our goal is to do intervention early enough to where these problems aren’t these big problems,” Little said. “That we can recognize behavioral health issues early on and address those early, and that will lower the cost of everything. But most importantly, it will improve our quality of life here in Idaho.”
The money targets areas recommended by the Idaho Behavioral Health Council, comprised of members from all three branches of state government. The council has sought to improve access to mental health resources and improve outcomes.
“Our vision is that adults, children and their families who live with mental illness and addiction receive the behavioral health care services that they need when they need them,” said Republican Rep. Laurie Lickley, a council member.
The $50 million is spread over a handful of appropriations bills and passed with large margins, but with far right-wing lawmakers tending to vote against them. The money includes a mix of federal coronavirus relief funds as well as general fund money.
Little called it “a very successful passage of significant bills that will enhance the delivery of much-needed behavioral health services across the state.”
The ceremonial event was held in Boise at an Idaho Crisis and Suicide Hotline facility that will use $4.4 million to expand the 988 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in Idaho.
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Idaho, and the state’s 23.2 deaths per 100,000 in 2020 made it the fifth-worst in the nation, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Another $6 million will be used to explore a new model, called the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic, to improve access and quality of behavioral health services in the state. Recovery centers will get an additional $900,000 to help people in recovery from mental health or substance abuse problems.
Idaho Supreme Court Justice John Stegner, who took part in the event, said a significant problem faced by the state is people with mental health issues getting caught up in the state’s criminal court system, sometimes as a result of trying to self-medicate and adding a substance abuse problem.
“We’re trying to differentiate between those that are criminally inclined and those that are mentally ill,” he said. “One of the problems with putting the mentally ill into the court system and into the jail is that they have worse outcomes than those who are not mentally ill. We are essentially dealing with the problem in the wrong fashion. That’s one of the things that I’m optimistic about is that by trying to get help to people who are mentally ill now, before they interact with the criminal justice system, they will be dealt with in a way that is much more likely to have a positive outcome than if they were arrested and put into the criminal justice system.”
Three start-up grants totaling $15 million in one-time money will be awarded to three Idaho residential treatment facilities to transition to psychiatric residential care facilities and qualified residential treatment programs.
Another $2.5 million will be used in substance use disorder block grants for prevention work through the Office of Drug Policy, an office of the governor that leads the state’s substance use and misuse policy and prevention efforts.
An additional $3 million will be used for community mental health block grants for a range of items that include early serious mental illness programs, crisis training, crisis beds for patients diagnosed with serious mental illness and developmental disabilities, and adverse childhood events training.
The money also includes $2.5 million for pre-prosecution grants and $500,000 for a test program involving interventions that address trauma.
The state is significantly bolstering its efforts to help juveniles with $6.5 million to establish safe teen reception centers for young people who have been arrested or have been determined to be delinquent. The centers could help juveniles avoid the state’s juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Another $4.4million has been approved to establish youth crisis centers across the state.
“We have had a very successful model in the state of setting up adult crisis centers around the state,” said Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen. “But we don’t have a model yet for juvenile, adolescent crisis centers.”
Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections Director Monty Prow said the nearly $11 million in the two initiatives will help address prevention and intervention for youths as well as bolster treatment for those who need it.
“Society is so complicated,” Little said. “These kids have so many challenges that they didn’t even have 10 or 15 years ago. And the pandemic just accelerated a lot of these underlying problems that were there.”
Finally, the state controller’s office is getting $2.5 million to help make sure that statewide behavioral health data is securely reported and quantified on a statewide level.