Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting
he 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
Another benefit: Crossroads planned to move to a new location, freeing up the county facility to potentially help alleviate overcrowding at the jail. Sheriff spokesperson Jackie Kirby says the old detox facility could be used for “lower-classification inmates who aren’t a high risk.” But as of Jan. 15, officials hadn’t finalized plans.
The facility was supposed to be available to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at the end of June, when Crossroads was expected to have finished renovating its new building at Interstate 25 and B Street. When Crossroads repeatedly ran into 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 organization has encountered additional issues that won’t allow it to begin operating in the new facility until early February. But the county didn’t offer another extension — so detox patients will have to go elsewhere for now.
“There will be a gap in services,” Lucero told the Independent Jan. 9.
Lucero says Crossroads notified UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services that it couldn’t accept detox patients after Jan. 15. 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 on Jan. 9, and was preparing to call in extra nurses to deal with an expected influx of detox patients.
Crossroads did not tell Cerrone when it planned to resume operations in the new building, she says, just “that they’re having some complications with the renovation and they’ll let us know.”
“Once we increase our nursing staff, I think we’ll be fine,” Cerrone says.
UCHealth, on the other hand, expressed displeasure with the delay.
“Many of these patients do not require the high level of medical care provided in our Emergency Departments, but will be brought to us as the only other place to turn, placing additional strain on critical resources,” Mark Mayes, associate chief nursing officer for UCHealth Memorial Hospital, said in an emailed statement.
Local hospitals formerly shouldered more of the detox program’s costs (about a third of the $2 million budget in 2015), but Lucero says they now provide only a small fraction of funding. The program currently costs about $1 million, Lucero says. Most of that is covered by $792,000 in state detox funds.
Penrose-St. Francis told the Indy that it made monthly payments to the detox program, but could not disclose the current amount. UCHealth says it no longer provides funding for detox at all.
“We haven’t gotten enough financial support from the hospitals,” Lucero says. “... We’re hoping that by being able to have our own permanent location along with more beds, that maybe the hospitals will step up their financial support of these kind of services, because we take a lot of patients from the hospitals.”
Detox offered a place — other than the ER — for people to sober up.
The new facility will have 20 beds initially, Lucero says — the same number Crossroads operated before Jan. 15 — and will add another 15 beds soon after. The goal, he says, is to eventually get back to 40 beds, the county’s former total.
Julie Krow, the executive director of El Paso County’s Department of Human Services, which ran detox for a while, called Crossroads “a very good partner” despite the delays.
Transferring management of the detox facility to Crossroads was beneficial in part, she says, because it can bill Medicaid for services, which the county could not. Crossroads also has an outpatient facility in Colorado Springs and several residential treatment programs in Pueblo, allowing it to refer patients elsewhere after a short-term stay at the detox facility.
“As a longer-term strategy, having detox with a private provider that has that full continuum of care is much better for the citizens of El Paso County,” Krow says.