“In fact, Kootenai Health agrees with those upset with our decision to temporarily close the Addiction Recovery Program,” he wrote…
NORTHERN IDAHO – Kootenai Health, the leading provider of behavioral health services for residents of northern Idaho, announced the temporary closure of its substance abuse recovery programs and outpatient psychiatric clinic practice in Kootenai due to staffing and funding shortages, despite settling nearly $120 million awarded to Idaho in a lawsuit against the nation’s three largest pharmaceutical distributors.
In a related press release, Kootenai Health President and CEO Jon Ness explained, “Because of this chronic underfunding, it is becoming increasingly difficult for stand-alone, individual providers like Kootenai Health and Heritage Health to provide the full range of behavioral services our community needs. »
The biggest impediment to operation appears to be the lack of staff. Similar to national trends, many key behavioral health providers at Kootenai Health have retired or left, citing stress and burnout, staffing shortages, providers choosing to work remotely via psychiatry telehealth and a dwindling number of new graduates entering the field in a shortage that is expected to last at least until 2027.
The estimated time to fill vacancies is one year in today’s job market, and the cost of hiring a single temporary doctor to cover the addiction recovery program during that time is $1 million. .
Ness recognizes the upheaval this will cause at a time when addiction recovery and mental health support are so desperately needed.
“In fact, Kootenai Health agrees with those who are upset with our decision to temporarily close the substance abuse treatment program,” he wrote in his statement. “The real discussion should take place in Boise and Washington DC about increasing funding levels for behavioral health programs and services.”
Changing the current underfunded model of behavioral health would require the support of voters and legislators, especially at a time facing unprecedented challenges from the pandemic and staffing shortages.
“Idaho currently enjoys a budget surplus, so this may be a good opportunity for a serious conversation about improving funding for behavioral health services,” Ness encourages. “This would be very helpful for vulnerable individuals, families, schools, law enforcement and behavioral healthcare providers.”
At this time, Kootenai Behavior Health has not announced an estimated time to resume services.
But for many who rely on these services, like Sasha Fisher, it’s not just an inconvenience. It’s life or death.
“It saved my life. And now it’s changing my life,” Fisher said.
Fisher is currently 9 days into Kootenai Health’s 21-day intensive inpatient addiction recovery program, after alcoholism nearly killed him.
“I came out of necessity, almost. I was in intensive care for three days. I had a flirtation with suicide that didn’t materialize, thank God. And in that moment I had the occasion [to meet] with the director,” he said.
But this saving grace could be short-lived, as he is in the last class before the program closes.
Kootenai Health announced the closure on Wednesday. Officials tell KHQ it comes down to staffing and funding issues.
“Mental health treatment is complicated. It takes a lot of energy to maintain staff. It’s a field of high exhaustion. Patients are difficult,” COry Alexander, who was a psychiatrist at Kootenai Health, said.
Kootenai Health officials say they have spent years trying to fix the problem, but now is what is needed.
“It’s immoral. It’s not the right thing to do for our community right now. And I really wish that didn’t happen,” she said.
Alexander, who worked as a psychiatrist at Kootenai Health for 8 years, questions the timing of the closure of our region’s most comprehensive program as we witness an unprecedented number of overdose deaths.
“With the pandemic, the need for mental health care has increased,” she said. “That means many, many people with serious mental health and chemical dependency issues are going to get worse, and some of those patients are going to die. I mean, these are life-threatening diseases, if left untreated, and there will be a lot of pain and suffering for the community.”
Current employees have other opportunities within the hospital or may choose to resign. And for some who wish to remain anonymous, leaving is the only option.
“I was devastated to hear this. Our community can’t afford to lose any more resources, especially for this population, mental health and addictions, you know, we’re already losing providers,” said a mental health provider at the hospital. “This is just one example of you, in my mind, taking the wrong steps to fix the problem.”
The duration of the closure is still unclear, however, any time lost may result in a higher cost.
“It’s not something that people can go cold turkey and get rid of on their own. It’s the kind of stuff they need medical support, they need a lot of social support,” said a mental health provider at the hospital. “They need ongoing follow-up, you know, ongoing follow-up with people who are really helping them get off these drugs.”
“There’s a line out the door for it. I happen to be one of the people who got it. But a lot of people don’t,” Fisher said. “Relapse is real. It’s a disease. And I don’t know what’s going to happen when it shuts down. But I believe people are going to use a chemical addiction service, now known as a ward. emergency.”
Employees will be transferred to other parts of the hospital or may choose to resign.