New Aspen detox center being heralded as collaborative effort

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Staff at Aspen’s soon-to-open detoxification center will work closely with ambulance crews, law enforcement and Aspen Valley Hospital in determining who goes to the facility and who is hospitalized, officials said Friday

Multiple community partners have aided the push to open Aspen Detox and Drug Testing, with Pitkin County, the city of Aspen and the town of Snowmass Village all contributing funds, said Sharon Raggio, CEO of Colorado West Regional Mental Health.

Colorado West will operate the detox center, which will open as soon as a few more employees are hired, Raggio said.

That can’t come fast enough for the staff at the Pitkin County Jail, which has borne the brunt of detox cases since both Colorado West’s facility in Glenwood Springs and The Right Door, an Aspen-based drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, closed their doors last year.

“There’s nobody more hopeful than us,” said jail administrator Don Bird of the new facility opening. “This is something we’ve been pushing for years and years.”

The way it has worked previously is that police would release an intoxicated person to a Right Door representative who would drive them to the Glenwood detox site located in the Garfield County Jail, which was run by Colorado West. But even before both organizations closed, the process was unpopular because people resisted the 40-mile drive, Bird said.

So they stayed at the jail until sobering up, usually in a cell built for dangerous inmates. That ended up draining jail resources.

“You don’t just put them in a bed and forget about them,” said Bird, who added that he also was worried about the jail’s liability when dealing with people detoxifying. “You have to monitor them constantly, check their vital signs.”

Pitkin County is providing the bulk of the funds for Aspen Detox and Drug Testing, which will be in the Schultz Health & Human Services building next door to the hospital, and the county also is not charging rent for the space. The Right Door had been in the same location.

Colorado West’s detox facility closed in October after funding dried up from Garfield County. The Right Door, which closed on Dec. 31, didn’t offer detox services but provided substance abuse counseling and transportation to Colorado West’s detox facility.

The county commissioners last year approved $115,000 annually for a two-year trial run, said Nan Sundeen, director of the county’s health and human services department.

The money, which is a $35,000 increase over what Pitkin County paid to Colorado West and The Right Door last year, comes out of the general fund. The city of Aspen provided $65,000, Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH) $52,000, Snowmass Village $3,000, and Colorado West is kicking in $2,500, Sundeen said.

Revenue from the jurisdictions total close to $240,000, and Aspen Detox and Drug Testing is expected to have a first-year budget of $273,455.

The deficit is planned because “we believe there will be adjustments” in the facility’s budget, Sundeen said. As denoted in the name, drug testing, both for the judicial system and for private businesses, is expected to generate revenue.

Officials from the funding entities will meet quarterly and adjust financial commitments as needed, she said.

“We will be watching to make sure it’s sustainable,” Sundeen said.

Raggio, Colorado West’s head, heralded the “amazing collaboration” behind the detox site, which will have someone on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Aspen police and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office have agreed to drive intoxicated people from AVH to the facility, a short but critical trip. Linda Consuegra, an assistant police chief, said officers will receive training that will help them gauge whether someone should go to AVH or straight to detox.

“We’re just trying to make this work because we recognize there is a need at times,” said Consuegra. “Hopefully it won’t take us too much time. If we are busy, we will try to work together, with the hospital maybe holding them a little longer” until police can get to AVH.

“Having a place here in town where people can go is huge,” she said.

Lori Maloy, director of outpatient services at AVH, said the emergency department treats a fair number of patients for intoxication.

“But not every patient who’s intoxicated needs to come to the emergency room,” she said. “We want them to receive service if they need it, but that’s not the case for two-thirds of [patients], and we don’t want them to have ER charges.

“We’re so happy to have this service right across the street in this community.”

Raggio said she didn’t know when the facility’s first day will be because applicants are being screened for the final positions at Aspen Detox and Drug Testing.

“Ideally it will be soon,” she said.