- Faith Miller
The county’s detox program, which monitors intoxicated people while they safely sober up, has had a complicated history.
Its most recent problem arose earlier this year, when a series of construction delays on a new facility took detox services offline for about a month — saddling hospital emergency rooms with the drunk and high patients whom detox would normally accommodate.
Since 2017, Pueblo-based nonprofit Crossroads Turning Points has managed the county detox program. But its problems date back much further. In 2009, local mental health care provider AspenPointe abruptly shut down its 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 at a time. The program — which was subsequently managed by various branches of county government — was funded with money from local hospitals and the state.
In late 2017, El Paso County handed over detox management to Crossroads. Officials said the move would allow for more extensive detox services.
The county-owned facility Maketa originally built for detox was supposed to be made available to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at the end of June 2018, when Crossroads was expected to have finished renovating its new facility at Interstate 25 and B Street. But when Crossroads repeatedly 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.
When Crossroads said it had encountered additional issues that wouldn’t let it begin operating in the new facility until February, the county didn’t offer another extension. That meant emergency departments were forced to take on the detox patients.
“When [Crossroads] closed for that period of time, then that resource was taken out of the community,” says Billie Ratliff, behavioral health manager at UCHealth Memorial Hospital. “...So [detox patients] took beds in the emergency department that other people could use.”
Ratliff adds that alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal are medical emergencies, and people in those situations certainly require intensive care. Even since detox reopened, though, Ratliff says the hospital still sees a similar volume of patients. Crossroads operates just 20 beds, though former CEO Leroy Lucero told the Independent in January that it would eventually get back up to 40. (Crossroads did not respond to an interview request for this story by the Indy’s press time.)
“Almost every day those beds are full, and there’s more patients needing those beds than they have beds available,” Ratliff says.
Ahead of detox’s January closure, Lucero told the Independent that Crossroads wasn’t getting enough financial support from local hospitals. While in 2015, hospitals shouldered about a third of the cost of operating the formerly $2 million program, the majority of the detox’s current budget is now covered by $792,000 from the state Office of Behavioral Health.
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services told the Indy in January that it made monthly payments to the detox program, but would not disclose the current amount. UCHealth said it no longer provided funding for detox at all.