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GF gets closer to building detox center

What an intoxicated individual picked up by police needs isn't a costly visit to the emergency room so much as a safe place to sober up and help overcoming addiction, Grand Forks social services officials say.

"It's not fair to other patients and nurses," said Kate Kenna, regional director for the Northeast Human Services Center . "It's a misuse of medical care when they really need a place to sleep it off."

But the Altru Hospital ER has been the only option for police despite efforts to open a social detoxification center over the past 20 years.

Those efforts though, are coming closer to fruition.

The Grand Forks Social Detox Program Committee, a group that includes Kenna and local government officials, is getting closer to funding the $200,000-a-year facility. The committee is part of the Mayor's Health and Human Services Cabinet

"I believe if we can get to these people and offer them help, we can say this isn't where you want to be and there is more to life than sleeping under a bridge," Kenna said. "We can be a voice of hope and say there are options for them."

In an ER, which provides medical detox, staff must check all patients for any hidden conditions, applying a battery of expensive tests that intoxicated people usually don't need. A social detox center can just focus on their alcoholism with social services.

The difference in cost can be stark. Altru has estimated medical detox costs about $1,000 a person a day. In Fargo, the CENTRE, a social service agency that gets city funding to provide social detox, says its cost is about $90 a person a day.

Police Chief John Packett, a detox committee member, said officers do need better ways to deal with intoxicated people. "Social detox is an area we tend to have a bald spot in," he said. "I would be supportive of the social detox component coming into our community; it gives more tools in dealing with citizens we come in contact with."

Team effort

Funding for the proposed Grand Forks detox center would come from a variety of sources.

So far, the Northeast Human Services Center has plans to commit $75,000 a year for the next two years. This year's funding is available now, but next year's will require approval of the Legislature, Kenna said.

Altru Health System has also pledged some funding, but the exact amount is not known, according to Grand Forks Public Health Director Don Shields.

"This is a community issue, so we're trying to find the best thing for the community, and we're hoping to solve these issues we are seeing," he said. "It's very positive we are all working towards this and have funding."

Funding had been available in the past, but other problems would get in the way.

For instance, the Grand Forks City Council voted in 1995 to provide $100,000 for a detox center, but the proposed location in the Berg Building in the heart of downtown was controversial. Eventually the council decided there wasn't enough intoxicated people to justify the funding and tabled the issue indefinitely.

More recently, Kenna said, the detox committee had a social service agency willing to host the program but the agency had financial problems and it never happened.

Committee minutes indicate that was Douglas Place in East Grand Forks, which was forced to declare bankruptcy in November 2011.

Not enough users?

A big stumbling block is the apparent lack of enough intoxicated people who would need a detox center in Grand Forks, something the detox committee has discussed.

Chief Packett said police get six to 12 cases of public disorderly intoxication a month -- most during warm summer months.

The number of intoxicated people Altru sees maybe higher. In 2007, committee minutes show the emergency room there admitted 580 patients for detox-related services.

Polk County already contract with the Glenmore Recovery Center in Crookston for detox services.

But Kenna has told the detox committee that she believes more intoxicated people would come out of the wood works if there were a detox center.

That was the case for the CENTRE in Fargo.

Executive Director Josh Helmer said he has seen the number of admitted patients rise since starting out at the CENTRE in 1996. About 100 admissions per month was a typical number up until 2003 when the agency started seeing 250 to 300 per month.

He said the average daily rate for an individual at the social detox center in Fargo is about $90 for a bed and continuous supervision.

At Glenmore in Crookston, it's $578 a night. Glenmore Director Denise Staehnke said that amount includes professional nursing staff, meals, counselors and withdrawal medication, among other things.

Detox committee members say a detox center could also be an opportunity for family or friends to help alcoholics, even if they aren't picked up by police.

The mayor's cabinet is continuing to look for the best model to run such a facility and how people would be taken care of, Shields said.

"Do we contract with a group to take care of folks?" he said. "Will there be insurance reimbursement or do they pay as they go? There are a lot of questions we're trying to figure out."

TJ Jerke is a reporter at

the Grand Forks Herald,

which is owned by Forum Communications Co.