Detox center in danger of closing

May 03, 2001 12:00 am
Mike Durgan credits detox at Baker House, above, family and friends for helping him retake control of his life. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).
Mike Durgan credits detox at Baker House, above, family and friends for helping him retake control of his life. (Baker City Herald photograph by S. John Collins).

By CHRIS COLLINS

Of the Baker City Herald

The detox center at Baker House is a service that improves the livability of the community and is worth preserving, according to program administrators.

But it will take money to do that. And unless more funding is directed to the program, either through the county or the state, it is destined for closure, according to Bart Murray, executive director of New Directions Northwest, which administers the detox program.

For a number of years, we were able to keep detox open by taking money from other programs, Murray said. It was never self-supporting.

Because of declining funding, redirecting money is no longer possible, he added.

Baker County is expected to contribute $6,500 to the program for 2001-2002, and the state is expected to contribute $48,649. That leaves the budget nearly $63,000 short of the $140,607 needed to pay the staff and provide services and supplies, according to Murray.

The Baker House program serves people throughout the region.

Last year, 241 people from all over Oregon were served, including 67 in Baker County. The program also served 34 Malheur County residents, 20 Union County residents and 16 Deschutes County residents.

For that service, Baker and Malheur counties each gave $10,000 and Union County contributed $5,000 last year and this year. Malheur and Union counties are not expected to provide any funding next year.

One possible solution might be to offer the service only to Baker County, said John Hoskin, Baker Houses program manager. Those details would be worked out later.

Without the detox center, people who require the service might be taken to the emergency room at the hospital, where the cost for care is at least three times higher than it is at Baker House, Hoskins said.

The emergency room is designed to handle acute care problems and people in danger, said Dave McCloskey, the hospital emergency room manager.

The hospital is not set up for a detox center, he said. If Baker loses the program it will be more difficult to place patients.

The loss of detox also would be a burden for police officers, according to Jim Tomlinson, Baker City police chief, who also serves on the board of New Directions Northwest.

Its a tough one for the officers, he said. If they take a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the hospital there is no room or secure area for them, especially if they are violent.

Overtime costs would rise if officers were required to stay at the hospital with people under the influence, Tomlinson predicted. And jail is not an option for those who have not committed any crimes.

The only other detox center is in Pendleton, which also is facing funding shortfalls.

It will cost the community and the taxpayers more money to close (detox) than it will to keep it open, Hoskins said. This is a penny-wise and pound-stupid thing by the state, taking away a resource we have built up over the years.

He and Murray point to Oregons Finigan Report that found that for every treatment dollar spent, there was a $5.60 savings in additional costs to the taxpayers.

Detox programs were started in the 1960s as humane alternatives to drunk tanks, he said. It is a place for police to take people who are publicly drunk or passed out and under the influence to sober up.

The detox staff monitors clients to ensure their safety as they sober up and come off drugs in a safe environment.

Two detox rooms are available on the second floor of Baker House. There are two beds for men and three for women. No one is turned away, however, and any overflow is redirected to the residential dorm, Hoskins said.

The service includes getting the person calmed down and settled in while obtaining a brief personal history, including when they had their last drink, drug use, medical problems and family background. If possible, they are helped through the process without medication. Medication is administered if necessary, Hoskins said.

He noted that while people dont generally die from cocaine or heroine withdrawal, they can die from alcohol withdrawal. And a significant number of people in detox experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including delirium tremens.

Once a client is stabilized, he or she is then encouraged to get involved in alcohol and drug education, to attend group sessions and to receive individual counseling.

After three to five days, they are released with a clear and continuing plan for recovery.

They are linked with Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups in the community or referred to Blue Mountain Addictions, another New Directions Northwest program that provides outpatient treatment.

Dr. Carl Stiff is the medical director for the program. He replaced Dr. Charles Hofmann, who had been the medical director for the past 20 years.

In addition to helping people in crisis, detox also opens the door to recovery for many people who wouldnt otherwise take that route.

People respond to treatment better in a moment of crisis, Hoskins said. If were able to get them into detox we can present treatment options, and were also able to impact the family.

No one wakes up one day and decides its a nice day to come to Baker House, he added.

The detox service is necessary for most people who enter the residential treatment program as well.

It takes five employees to operate the program 24 hours a day, seven days a week, accounting for vacations and holidays.

Closing the detox center will put additional pressure on other treatment programs operated by New Directions Northwest, according to Murray and Hoskins.

While there is no simple solution to the funding problem, its a question of priorities for the state and the county, Hoskins believes.

There is little commitment at the state level for funding alcohol and drug treatment and prevention although alcohol and drug addiction has been identified as the states No. 1 health problem, he said.

In the previous biennium, just 1.5 percent of the Department of Human Resources budget went for alcohol and drug treatment, he said.

Compounding the problem is the governors proposed budget, which redirects funding from treatment and prevention to focus on children ages zero to age 8, Hoskins said.

Theres nothing glamorous about detoxing and old drunks, he said. It sounds nicer to be worrying about children or mothers and their babies.