SIOUX CITY | The situation plays itself out several times a month, Sioux County Sheriff Dan Altena said.
Deputies are called to a home where someone who suffers from mental illness is upset, perhaps disruptive, and has become uncontrollable. Deputies transport the person to a hospital emergency room, where a doctor determines that the person doesn't meet criteria to be hospitalized or committed to a mental health facility.
The deputy has no choice but to let the person go; there's nowhere else to take him or her. So the person returns home, and deputies might be called back two or three times before the situation either subsides or escalates, sometimes ending in an arrest.
"They don't need to be handcuffed, they don't need to be in jail," Altena said. "They need services that officers can't offer. A lot of times there are no other options."
Soon, there will be.
This week, the hiring process begins to staff the Crisis Stabilization Center, a facility that will offer short-term observation or longer-term housing in a secure setting to individuals whose conditions don't warrant hospitalization.
"We think it provides a chance to keep people out of hospitals, out of emergency rooms and out of jails," said Jim Rixner, executive director of Siouxland Mental Health Services, which will manage and staff the facility, located in a former group home at 4038 Division St. in Sioux City.
Rixner hopes to see it open by Jan. 1.
The crisis center was created and is funded by Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services, which delivers mental health services in Woodbury, Plymouth and Sioux counties. Sioux Rivers, which has its main office in Orange City, was formed in 2014 after the state changed from local to regional delivery of mental health services for low-income people.
When counties provided their own services, most couldn't afford to create a crisis center, though they knew the benefits one could provide to people who didn't qualify for hospital admission or commitment.
"We've wanted to do it for a number of years to give people an option. The only option now is to hospitalize people," said Patty Erickson-Puttmann, Sioux Rivers Regional Service coordinator for Woodbury County. "It gives us a huge alternative to hospitalization. It's a huge alternative for families and individuals."
When the change to regional delivery of services occurred, the state asked regions to create programs like the crisis center. The pooled resources of three counties allowed Sioux Rivers to start the center, Sioux Rivers CEO Shane Walter said.
"It's something most of us had become jaded about and never thought we'd see happen," Walter said.
Someone threatening violence or posing a risk to him or herself or others usually is admitted to a hospital, Rixner said, but the majority of calls police respond to aren't that serious. The crisis center gives individuals a safe place to "cool off" and get help instead of going to a hospital.
An observation area under nursing and mental health technician supervision provides that cooling off area. If, after 12 hours, the person still isn't feeling better, he or she can enter the 10-bed stabilization program, in which a therapist can determine what kind of treatment and services would be appropriate.
Patients, who must be at least 18, may check themselves into the voluntary program or be brought there by family members. The $1 million program will be funded primarily through Medicaid reimbursement, Walter said. A mix of state and local funding will cover the remaining costs.
From a law enforcement standpoint, Altena said, the center will free officers from spending hours sitting in emergency rooms with patients who likely aren't going to be admitted to a hospital. That saved time allows officers to return sooner to regular patrol duties.
"It looks like one of the best things that's ever come up for mentally ill people and law enforcement's dealings with them," Altena said.