The high costs of detox
April 7, 2016
Steamboat Springs — A detox facility comes at a high cost, but local officials feel it is a necessary one.
In 2015, Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and Yampa Valley Medical Center each gave Mind Springs Health $23,000 to operate the facility for the year.
With 68 people taken to detox in 2015, the three organizations spent $1,015 to take care of each person.
“It seems high to me, but I understand now,” Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins said.
The detox program was established in 2003, and local law enforcement has used it for people who cannot take care of themselves due to their level of alcohol intoxication.
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For the past year and a half, Mind Springs has operated the program out of a room provided by the county at the Routt County Justice Center.
Mind Springs Health Regional Director Tom Gangel said detox is a money-losing program for his nonprofit.
“We’re very pleased if we break even, but typically, we do not,” Gangel said.
The program’s greatest expense is paying staff.
A detox worker is on call every day of the year and ready to respond if police determine someone is too drunk to be left to his or her own devices, but not drunk enough to warrant hospitalization.
On-call staff are paid $72 per day Monday through Thursday and $96 per day Friday through Sunday. That translates to about $30,000 per year just to pay people to be on call.
When staff are called in to work, they are paid between $14 and $20 per hour. With an average detox stay of 11 hours for each of the 68 people in detox, hourly wages in 2015 were between $10,500 and $15,000.
“Staff are also paid an hourly wage for any training time and monthly staff meetings,” Gangel said. “Staff training amounts to about 80 hours per year.”
There is also additional training, and a case worker is paid an hourly wage to meet with people about potentially seeking alcohol treatment. Gangel said this has been an area of success, with between 13 and 19 percent of detox clients choosing to seek treatment. He said the state’s goal is getting 3 percent of people into treatment.
According to Mind Springs, total detox personnel expenses in 2015 were $92,337.
Mind Springs also covers the overhead costs for detox, putting total 2015 expenses at $125,000.
To offset these costs, Mind Springs in 2015 received about $35,000 in Medicaid reimbursements. It also received about $13,500 from the state’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Division.
People who use detox are charged between $100 and $200, but Mind Springs was only able to collect about $5,000 in 2015.
The costs to run detox may be high, but there are few alternatives.
“It would be more expensive for me to assign a police officer until they were sober,” Steamboat Police Chief Cory Christensen said. “We can’t walk away. We have a duty to protect.”
He added it would also not be cost-effective to send people to YVMC to detox.
“It’s a community issue,” Christensen said. “It’s a community problem.”
Wiggins said Mind Springs is doing the best it can with the resources available, but the current detox program is not ideal.
“It’s a long way from being ideal,” Wiggins said.
Wiggins is concerned that there is only one detox employee assigned when a person is brought in. In January, the lone detox worker, a 59-year-old woman, was attacked by the man she was watching.
In the wake of that incident, Wiggins suggested a second employee should be assigned to help when someone is brought to detox, but the money was not available, and it was decided the status quo would have to do.
“I think for now, it is what we have,” Wiggins said.