Mental Health

Nearly one year after lawmakers and small business owners cast a critical eye at the contractor managing mental health and substance treatment for Idaho's poor, company officials say approval ratings remain high and problems are few.

Executives from Optum, a unit of UnitedHealth Group, told the House Health and Welfare Committee Wednesday that they had a 95 percent satisfaction rating among members who receive behavioral-health services under Medicaid.

That's according to the most recent sample survey the company sent out to their members.

State of Idaho

A pilot project that could change the way Idahoans get treated during a mental health crisis has opened its doors in eastern Idaho. Officials held a ribbon cutting ceremony in Idaho Falls Monday morning.

telephone, buttons, hotline
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

If you need help, you can contact the hotline by dialing 1-800-273-TALK.

When people in crisis dial the Idaho Suicide Hotline, starting Wednesday, they'll reach someone close to home. The service is marking its second anniversary by expanding to 24-7 coverage.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, nearly a quarter of Idahoans are living with a mental illness. Idaho has one of the highest suicide rates in the country. Nearly 22,500 Idahoans receive mental health treatment through Idaho’s Medicaid program. 

It’s the access to services, and a web of service providers, that have proven difficult for folks in need of care.

All week Boise State Public Radio and the Idaho Statesman have been reporting on Idaho's fragmented, underfunded, and threadbare mental health care system.

We've learned that Idaho doesn't have enough psychiatrists or treatment facilities. It doesn't have enough resources for some of the state's poorest residents.

In Crisis: Idaho Medicaid In Flux Causes A Big Shift In Care

Oct 31, 2014
mental health, in crisis
Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Nine-year-old Kendra sits in one of the private rooms on the second floor of Boise’s Downtown public library with her community-based rehabilitation services worker, Jennifer Beason.

Beason slides a workbook to Kendra. It is what she calls her feelings journal. “Do you know what relieved is?” she asked.

Without missing a beat, Kendra rattles off examples of feeling relieved.

Gary Raney, sheriff
Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Idaho prisons, jails and courtrooms aren’t just parts of the criminal justice system. They also have been tasked with providing treatment to Idahoans with mental illness.

'WOW, THAT COULD HAPPEN TO ANYBODY'

Judge Michael Reardon started working at Ada County Mental Health Court seven years ago, in addition to his work as a family-law magistrate judge.

mental health, in crisis, shannon guevara
Darin Oswald / Idaho Statesman

It’s a sunny September afternoon, and the room is packed. It’s like a movie theater before the lights go down — the buzz of nervous energy, nattering about plans for the weekend, someone lingering in the aisle until the very last minute.

But this isn’t the movies. It’s a courtroom — one where the stakes aren’t just “jail” or “no jail” but are, for many of the people in the room, much deeper.

Idaho has 10 special mental-health courts, where adult felons diagnosed with one of four mental illnesses show up each week to talk to a judge.

mental health, in crisis
Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Several people interviewed by the Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio did not want to be named or quoted because of stigma surrounding mental illness. Shawna Ervin of Nampa believed the issue of mental illness in Idaho is important enough to share her story, despite concerns from a family member that doing so could hinder her job search. Shannon Guevara of Nampa did not seek treatment for decades for her bipolar disorder because of stigma around psychiatric disorders.

mental health, in crisis
Darin Oswald / Idaho Statesman

The voice started when Shawna Ervin was 16 years old, and it hounded her for two years.

It told her to hurt herself.

“It was relentless and wouldn’t stop laughing at me until I burned myself on my face,” she said.

When she finally did burn her face, the laughter turned maniacal. Then it stopped.

Ervin’s mental illness is not rare. She is one of thousands of Idahoans whose disorders can be severe enough to warrant hospitalization.

Philip Mazeikas, mobile crisis, mental health
Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman

Two years ago, Philip Mazeikas answered the front door of his family home. The course of his life changed when he opened it.

At 24-years-old, Mazeikas found himself in the middle of his first psychotic episode.

He thought he'd been contacted by aliens who were using him in a scheme to control the world. He wasn't eating well. He was drinking his own urine.

mental health, in crisis
Joe Jaszewski | jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com / Idaho Statesman

Philip Mazeikas, now 26-years-old, started noticing signs of his mental illness when he was 18.

"I started thinking there was a prophecy about me rising to power, or being famous," he says. "Things turned worse when I was 23, when I started hearing voices."

By the time Mazeikas was 24, the Boise Police Department had been called to his home more than once. Mazeikas had become unpredictable and volatile. 

"He would sometimes say to us, 'Hey Dad I'm back, I've been gone a while'," Mike Mazeikas recalls.

In Crisis: How To Help Someone Needing Mental Health Care

Oct 27, 2014
telephone, buttons, hotline
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

If you or someone you know is in crisis, here are some phone numbers to call:

  • Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
  • Idaho's 24-hour crisis line: 2-1-1
  • Medical or public safety emergency: 9-1-1

If someone you know is in emotional crisis and you worry they're in need of help, here are some warning signs to watch for from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and National Institute of Mental Health.

Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Roy Vopal didn’t expect to live at a Boise Rescue Mission shelter in Downtown Boise this year. But the 60-year-old had a serious knee injury, then surgery, that he said left him unable to work for the first time in his life.

“Mentally, it’s a mind-screw” to be out of work, Vopal said. “It definitely twists the brain.”

Vopal says his service in the Marines during the Vietnam War left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There were times when I wanted my life to end,” Vopal said. He attempted suicide in his 30s and used drugs.

the hive, gabe rudow
Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

Organizers of a new nonprofit want to do more than provide cheap studios for Boise’s growing music scene. They’re helping musicians who are struggling with things like stress, depression and addiction by connecting them with low-cost services.

Becky diVittorio, Optum
Idaho Statesman

A federal agency is investigating whether the company Idaho hired to manage part of its Medicaid program has violated patient-privacy laws.

Optum Idaho, a unit of United Behavioral Health, took over insurance management for Idaho Medicaid's mental-health and substance-abuse patients last fall.

Local health-care providers who treat those patients say Optum has erroneously sent them reports meant for other providers. The reports show patient names and mental-health or substance-abuse services the patients received or were authorized by Optum to receive.

Northern Idaho lawmakers opposing a bill to fund three mental health crisis centers is part of the reason Coeur d'Alene didn't get a $1.5 million behavioral-health crisis center.

Information obtained by the Coeur d'Alene Press through a public records request shows that a committee gave the city a higher score than winner Idaho Falls.

But criteria also included lawmaker support, which the center attained in eastern Idaho.

Sint Smeding / Flickr Creative Commons

The Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline (ISPH) is one step closer to being a fulltime crisis line. 

Thursday hotline staff announced they received a $50,000 grant from the United Way of the Treasure Valley. ISPH Executive Director John Reusser says the award will go a long way in helping the hotline become a 24/7 resource. He says the United Way first gave them funds when they started in 2012. 

"The United Way has been very supportive," says Reusser. "This donation will help fund operations as we get through the last leg of expansion."

A $1.5 million state-funded behavioral-health crisis center will be built in Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter made the announcement Thursday morning at the Idaho Falls Regional Airport.

Boise in southwestern Idaho and Coeur d'Alene in northern Idaho had also been in the running for the center.

The center is intended to serve as a safety net to treat at-risk mentally ill people whose symptoms often land them in hospitals or jail.

Mental health professionals blasted a private company managing behavioral health care for low-income Idaho residents, saying the system is plagued with hours-long delays that could put their clients at risk.

A joint House and Senate Health and Welfare Committee meeting Friday provided a venue to criticize Optum, a Minnesota-based health care services management company.

Since September, it's being paid $10.5 million monthly to administer outpatient behavioral health services for Idaho's Medicaid program as the state seeks to as it seeks to control costs.

An annual report from the Idaho Supreme Court shows that the state has seen a dramatic increase in the number of involuntary commitment cases filed for people with mental illness.

A case that featured harrowing testimony of combat-related mental illness ended Monday with a guilty verdict. Army Sergeant John Russell was convicted for murdering five fellow servicemen at a military mental health clinic in Baghdad in 2009.

A military judge found the 48-year-old Texas native guilty of premeditated murder. A public affairs spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma says Sergeant Russell showed no visible reaction.

Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio

The inaugural Boise Beardsmen Beard and Mustache Championships packed the house Saturday night at the Red Room. Men sporting bushy beards and twisted mustaches worked the rowdy crowd. They were judged in several categories including "Full Beard" and "Freestyle Beard." Female Beardsmen competed in the "Whiskerina" section. 

Michael Caroe Anderson / Flickr Creative Commons

Less than three months after its launch, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline is expanding its hours. Starting today volunteers will take calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

So far, the suicide hotline has taken about 160 calls since November. Executive Director John Reusser says there’s no question the hotline has helped many Idahoans in crisis.

Reusser says the hotline’s next goal is to launch a marketing campaign to connect with people around the state. That campaign will likely begin next week.  

Jessica Paterson / Flickr

Recent mass shootings in Oregon and Connecticut have thrust mental health issues into the spotlight. Some Oregon lawmakers and mental health advocates hope there's enough momentum to keep the conversation front and center. Unlike gun control, there is a consensus that appears to be emerging on funding mental health programs.

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