The county's detox program, which monitors intoxicated people, allowing them to safely sober up, has had a wild ride over the past decade. Now, it's about to go offline (again), which will lead to overflowing emergency rooms.
Problems with detox date to 2009, when local mental health care provider AspenPointe abruptly shut down their detox program, slamming hospital ERs. Then-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa swooped in to help, replacing detox (often referred to informally as "the drunk tank") with a county program.
Maketa built a $1.76 million facility next to the county jail to house about 40 people who needed to sober up. The program — which was subsequently managed by various branches of county government — was funded money from local hospitals and the state. Then, in late 2017 detox management was handed over
to Crossroads' Turning Points, Inc.
, a Pueblo-based nonprofit. The county said the move would allow for more extensive detox services
"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," its announcement read. "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."
Crossroads planned to move to a new location, freeing up the county facility to help alleivate overcrowding at the jail. Crossroads' current detox facility, a "sprung structure" next to the county jail, was supposed to be available to the El Paso County Sheriff's Office at the end of June, when Crossroads was expected to move to its new facility at Interstate 25 and B Street, which is being renovated. When Crossroads encountered construction issues and administrative delays, the Board of County Commissioners voted to extend the deadline to Sept. 30, then Dec. 31, and finally Jan. 15.
Now, according to Leroy Lucero, Crossroads' president and CEO, the company has encountered additional issues that won't allow it to begin operating in its new facility until early February. But the county doesn't plan to offer another extension — so detox patients will have to go elsewhere for a few weeks.
"There will be a gap in services," Lucero told the Indy
Crossroads' notified the county that it may not meet the Jan. 15 deadline just before the new year, according to county Department of Human Services spokesperson Kristina Iodice.
The detox facility was originally funded, in part, with money former Sheriff Terry Maketa received from the federal government for housing ICE holds.
However, Jacqueline Kirby, a sheriff's office spokesperson, did not acknowledge that Crossroads' would not meet the deadline in a Jan. 8 conversation with the Indy
about the move-out timeline. When asked what would happen to detox patients if Crossroads' did not meet the deadline, Kirby said: "That’s a question for Crossroads', to say what they would do and where they would go. All I can speak to is the sheriff’s office piece of that, and our understanding is they will be vacated by the 15th."
Kirby says the sheriff's office may use the space to house "lower-classification inmates who aren’t a high risk."
Crossroads' will be entirely responsible for coming up with a contingency plan and notifying public safety agencies about where to take detox patients, Iodice says, as detox services are no longer run by the county.
Lucero says Crossroads' has notified UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services that the detox facility won't be operating between Jan. 15 and early February. He expects most patients to end up at those hospitals' emergency rooms or other community facilities, and El Paso County patients may be transported to Crossroads' Pueblo facility on an "emergency, case-by-case basis."
Sharon Cerrone, clinical nurse manager of emergency departments at Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center, says she was informed of the development the morning of Jan. 9, and was preparing to call in extra nurses to deal with an expected influx of detox patients.
Crossroads had not informed her of a possible date it would resume operations in the new building, she said, just "that they're having some complications."
Lucero emphasized that the county and sheriff's office had been generous to let Crossroads occupy the building six months longer than originally planned.
"They have bent over backwards to allow us to stay as long as we have," Lucero said. "...It can no longer continue because they need the space."
Julie Krow, the executive director of El Paso County's Department of Human Services, called Crossroads "a very good partner" despite the delays. DHS, which ran detox for a while, no longer has operational authority over the facility but provides "some very minimal infrastructure" such as laundry and janitorial services.
Transferring management of the detox facility to Crossroads was beneficial in part, she said, because a private entity has the ability to bill Medicaid for services, which the county did not. Krow says the most recent extension was granted to make sure that services were available over the holidays.
County commissioners, who voted to approve the three deadline extensions, did not appear to have been notified that the detox facility would be offline for a month or so. The item was not listed on meeting agendas, and Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez said Jan. 9 that he had not been briefed on the delay.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.