El Paso County Looks to Off-Load Detox Facility

Detox currently is located next to the Criminal Justice Center on East Las Vegas Street.

After AspenPointe bailed on the “Lighthouse” detox facility in 2008, no one stepped up to provide an alternative. The hospitals were screaming about it, because their emergency rooms were filling up with drunks.

Then-Sheriff Terry Maketa solved the problem by erecting what’s called a sprung structure, funded, in part, with money he received from the federal government for housing deportees in jail pending deportation. Hospitals also have helped pay to run it. (Maketa has since fallen from grace and faces trial next month on several charges arising from a grand jury indictment.)

The last time we wrote about the detox program was last year when the county quietly transferred the program from the sheriff’s office to community services. (“El Paso County hopes to improve access with new oversight,” News, Jan. 6, 2016)

The county’s release:

At the regular meeting of the Board of El Paso County Commissioners today, Commissioners listened to a report proposing a change of direction for the County Social Detoxification Program. The County has gone above and beyond for the past eight years to provide this community benefit, even though the service is not Statutorily required. When the County took on the program it was intended as a “temporary solution.” As El Paso County continues to grow, hospitals and doctors have expressed concerns that a purely social detox model is not sufficient to meet the needs of the community. Experts in the medical community have suggested that El Paso County needs a medical model detox center staffed by medically trained experts able to assist individuals to move toward long term sobriety. “We recognize that there is a growing need in the County, but we do not have the proper facilities, expertise, staffing and statutory designation to provide a more medically based model,” said Julie Krow, El Paso County Department of Human Services executive director. “Based on the general direction offered by the Board of County Commissioners today, we look forward to working with leaders in the medical community, law enforcement, non-profits and others to establish a detox model with more robust medical and clinical services to better serve our community.” In 2016, the operational cost of the El Paso County social detox problem was just over $2 million. El Paso County contributed about 25 percent of that total cost. The Penrose-St. Francis healthcare system, Memorial Healthcare and Aspen-Pointe (Managed Services Organization for State funds) contributed the rest of the funding. El Paso County will continue its financial support for Detox services and is committed to working with the state and its providers as well as the local hospitals through a smooth transition to a new and enhanced medical and clinical model for detox. Administration proposes that the County no longer manage the social detox program. Not only will a true medical services provider will be able meet longer term needs of patients, it may also be able to bill Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance carriers to help pay for those services; something which the County cannot do. AspenPointe, formerly Pikes Peak Mental Health, used to run the “Lighthouse” facility, which struggled for years to maintain operations due to funding issues. In 2008, the facility closed with only two months’ notice. Without a legitimate community detox program, emergency rooms filled up with people who were intoxicated. The county jail, which was at full capacity, was not able to accept such individuals. Law enforcement officers spent time many nights driving patrol cars with individuals who were intoxicated in the back seat. Area hospitals and the community approached the County and asked for a solution. In 2009, a Community Social Detox/Triage facility was established in El Paso County. The County has operated the licensed facility, with Certified Addiction Counselors (CAC), providing admission, assessment, detox treatment/service plan, and discharge after care plan for individuals. However, detox is not a statutory function of County government so, from the very start in 2009 it was thought that this should be a temporary solution to address and urgent need in the community.