Contact: Thomas Hottman
Cascade Health Alliance (CHA) made a $250,000 donation this week for the construction of a new sobering station in Klamath Falls. This is the capping donation on top of other community donations, making construction of the sobering facility possible.
“The primary purpose of a sobering station is to provide individual people with a safe place to sleep off the effects of alcohol. In the absence of a sobering station, such individuals are picked up by law enforcement for public intoxication or end up in the hospital emergency department,” said CHA President and CEO Tayo Akins.
“As a mission-driven organization, Cascade Health Alliance is proud to work with our stakeholders, including our board members, to provide a more compassionate alternative to jail or the hospital emergency room for intoxication,” Akins said in a press release.
Construction is expected to start in the spring. The center will hold eight beds, but leave room for expansion.
ATRIO Health Plans, a Cascade Health Alliance partner though its parent organization Cascade Comprehensive Care, Inc., also donated $50,000 to the project, bringing the total donation to $300,000.
“The Klamath community has shown such leadership in addressing critical needs in very practical ways which will make a difference for everyone in the area,” said ATRIO CEO Ruth Bauman. “We are honored to be able to support these efforts.”
Part of Klamath Works campus
The sobering station, to be built on the Klamath Works social services campus off of South Sixth Street, will be a place for intoxicated individual to recover.
“The goal is to provide the most appropriate service,” said Lauren Jespersen, Sky Lakes Medical Center community. “It’s really about providing the right care for the right need.”
Without the sobering station, severely intoxicated individuals are likely taken to the hospital emergency room or to the Klamath County Jail to sober up, Jespersen said. But while the Sky Lakes emergency department or the county jail can take care of those individuals, it doesn’t mean that it is the most appropriate spot for them. The current process places an undue burden on the already taxed emergency room staff, as well as wait times and other services for patients, Jespersen said.
“We are happy to make a donation to the construction and operation of the sobering facility and work with other community partners in a public-private partnership to ensure our members get the right care, in the right setting that allows us to optimize the emergency room for our members who desperately need it,” Akins said.
“The sobering station is one example of working with our community partners to provide solutions with our community partners to improve the health outcome for our members that we serve,” he said.
Excessive drinking stats
As proof that the sobering station is an important service for the community, Sky Lakes CEO Paul Stewart points to the 2016 report from America’s Health Rankings, which places Oregon at number 21 in the country overall, but at number 34 for excessive drinking rates. Oregon dropped from number 20 overall in 2015, in part due to poor statistics for health behaviors such as excessive drinking, Stewart said.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time and it’s nice to see it finally come to fruition,” Stewart said of the sobering station. “This will create a better experience for people receiving care at Sky Lakes. We have a lot going on in the ER with intoxication-related patient care that doesn’t need to be there.”
In a data snapshot over 230 days in the Sky Lakes emergency department, provided by Jespersen, there were three occasions in which six intoxicated individuals were in the ER at the same time. There were 91 total instances of intoxication during that time, including five individuals under the age of 18. The average length of the stay for those intoxicated individuals was 7.2 hours.
The sobering station, which will be operated by staff from Klamath Basin Behavioral Health (KBBH), will give intoxicated individuals a safe place to be, and access to resources to address drinking problems, Jespersen said.
“The sobering facility is a project that Klamath has wanted and talked about for 15 years that I’m aware of,” said KBBH executive director Stan Gilbert. “The collaboration that has gotten this project off the ground has been tremendous. The whole Klamath Works campus is really an amazing concept that will greatly benefit our community members.”
“It’s nice to see so much collaboration between Sky Lakes, CHA, the city, the county, the state, our community mental health provider, and others. That sort of collaboration is ultimately what will help this community be successful.” Stewart said.
It is difficult to track exact data for the number of patients in the ER for intoxication, said Sky Lakes Emergency Department Director Ron Woita, RN. Patients could be coded under a different diagnosis, such as “altered mental status,” or “inability to ambulate,” he said.
“There’s a lot of variability in it, and that’s what makes it hard to measure,” Woita said.
The sobering station will also allow our law enforcement officers to return more quickly to patrol duties, reduce wasted resources and free up additional jail space, Akins said.
ER, police to get relief
Klamath Falls Police Chief David Henslee said that when he first became involved in the sobering station and looked at data related to his department’s involvement, he was shocked at the numbers. On average, the city police department transports about 100 people a year to the Klamath County Jail or the Sky Lakes emergency room for sobering purposes alone.
“The number was staggering to me,” Henslee said.
In 2014, 110 people were transported, 101 in 2015, and 63 as of September 2016. It’s important to keep in mind, Henslee said, that these statistics represent persons who have not been arrested for a crime, but are simply too intoxicated to care for themselves.
“When I was looking at these numbers, I just thought ‘There has to be a better way,’” Henslee said, adding that a solution would help prevent clogged systems at the ER and in the jail.
The sobering station won’t end visits to the emergency department for intoxication, Woita said, but the project will help increase community awareness and provide more options for patients struggling with alcohol addiction.
“This really completes the circle of treatment,” Woita said, adding that he hopes mental health professionals will have better access to patients to encourage them to seek treatment. “You’ve got to have access to the patients when they’re ready, and it’s a small window. It is key.”
In addition to the funding from Cascade Health Alliance, the Oregon Health Authority awarded a $250,000 grant for the construction of the sobering station, Sky Lakes Medical Center contributed $200,000, and $40,000 was dedicated by the Klamath County Commissioners