Last call for detox center? Closure threatened
Colorado West Mental Heath Center officials issued a stern warning to area hospitals and municipalities on Tuesday: pay up or we close the detox center.
The hospitals and towns, 23 altogether, owe Colorado West more than $100,000 for operation of the detox center during the fiscal year that spanned from July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002, agency officials said Tuesday.
If most of that money isn’t handed over by Dec. 31, the center will close, said Tom Updike, assistant executive director of Colorado West.
“The reality is, if we are not able to collect the dollar amounts owed, I will have to close it,” Updike said of the downtown Glenwood Springs detox center. “And I will not open it again.”
To make matters worse, an $80,000 budget shortfall last year for operating the detox center has grown to more than $230,000 this year.
While $230,000 is a lot of money to come up with, all at the meeting agreed that without a detox center, life could be grim for those in need of treatment. Residents throughout the valley would be forced to deal with alcohol and drug addicts on a daily basis and those addicts would have no place to receive treatment.
Also, the financial burden of closing of the detox center would hit area hospitals hard. They would be forced to deal with addicts much more than they do now.
But despite the urgent need, area police chiefs and municipal officials resisted Updike’s renewed call for funding.
Basalt police chief Keith Ikeda said Colorado West charged more than his department pledged.
In the original agreements made last year, some of the money came directly out of police budgets.
“I pledged $1,700 and I was billed by more than three times that amount,” he said.
Silt seems to be in even more dire straits. Silt police chief Paul Taylor said the Silt Town Council never approved any funding for the detox center, adding that a recent 37 percent town-wide budget cut makes it unlikely the council will change its mind.
“We have no money to pay you and we don’t intend to pay you,” he said.
Police officials also questioned why law enforcement departments have to bear the brunt of detox funding.
Glenwood Springs police chief Terry Wilson asked why it matters if a patient is brought to detox by police or by other means.
“Really it doesn’t matter if they come in the back of our car or the back of a family member’s car,” he said.
Wilson’s gripe was aimed at Colorado West’s method of dividing costs. The more residents are treated from each town, the more that town would be charged. Then, if police bring in the patient, that police department pays much of that patient’s cost.
In November 2001, the Glenwood Springs City Council pledged $16,000 to help the detox center keep its doors open. But by using a system that charges a municipality more if its residents use the detox facility more, Colorado West charged Glenwood Springs $37,582 from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002.
In anticipation of such complaints, Colorado West staff presented a new way to divide the budget shortfall, calling for counties, towns and cities to pay half of the $232,710 shortfall and for area hospitals to pay the other half.
The formula takes $1.15, the average cost per capita to keep the detox running, and multiplies it by the number of people in a city, town or unincorporated county. Aspen, for example, has 5,914 people, so it would pay $6,801 per year.
While town and city officials seemed to be more satisfied with this formula, hospital administrators from Valley View Hospital, Clagett Memorial Hospital in Rifle and Aspen Valley Hospital called it unfair.
They said each hospital already pays heavily to care for substance abusers in the area. But each also agreed that the costs – economically, socially and in many other ways – could be substantially higher if the detox is allowed to close.
The proposed formula for hospitals figures payment by the total number of emergency visits per year. For example, Valley View Hospital’s 12,500 visits per year are 44 percent of the total emergency visits for all three hospitals. So Valley View would pay 44 percent of the hospitals’ share of the shortfall, or $51,040.
When confronted with the hospitals’ opposition, Updike said he’d change the formula to charge municipalities 60 percent and hospitals 40 percent.
Garfield County Jail Administrator Dan Hall reiterated the importance of funding the detox center.
“It’s a community problem of everybody in this room, so everybody has to pony up,” he said.
Updike was hoping for a commitment from those in attendance to pay last year’s bills and agree to the new proposal. But most who attended the meeting said they don’t have the power to make either of the commitments. They said Updike will have to visit each town, city or county board to convince them to fund the detox.
“If I feel like I’ve made no progress by Dec. 31, I’ll close this,” Updike said. “This is not a threat. It’s a hard reality.”
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Grace Wesseling is an animal lover, a cheerleader of seven years and another soon-to-be graduate of Bridges High School, class of 2021.