Council hears about efforts to curb alcoholism

City of Farmington staff provided updates about the Joint Intervention Program, the Sobering Center and The Roof during a council work session

Hannah Grover

FARMINGTON — City officials remain optimistic about an alcohol treatment program aimed at reducing the amount of money Farmington pays for emergency room visits, detox stays and incarceration of people struggling with alcoholism.

Farmington's new Sobering Center has served approximately 4,500 clients since it opened earlier this year.

The Farmington City Council heard an update about the Joint Intervention Program, which began in 2013, during a work session today.

City Manager Rob Mayes said the city hopes to continue to see people who go through the program reporting reduced time incarcerated or in the emergency room or the Sobering Center.

"Time will tell whether that happens," he said.

This year, the JIP expanded into a residential treatment program. The dormitory, known as Paul's Place, opened in October and is staffed by Presbyterian Medical Services.

The treatment program only admits people who meet certain criteria. That includes spending a large amount of time in jail, the emergency room or the new Sobering Center, which opened in March. A dozen people are currently enrolled in the JIP, and Presbyterian Medical Services' Totah Behavioral Health Authority is evaluating applications for other individuals.

The people are often referred by outside agencies. For example, Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said officers are attending court hearings and telling judges when people are candidates for JIP. The judges can include treatment like the JIP in sentencing.

Other people are referred to the program from the San Juan Regional Medical Center or the Sobering Center.

The Sobering Center opened following an announcement by Four Winds Recovery Center officials that they would close their detox program. As a way of keeping the service in the community, San Juan County, Presbyterian Medical Service, the San Juan Regional Medical Center and the city of Farmington teamed up to create the Sobering Center.

Since it opened, the Sobering Center has served 4,500 clients, Assistant City Manager Julie Baird told the City Council. Baird said it is hard to determine how many individual people have used the service because some people have given fake names when admitted to the center. She said the Sobering Center has also had a problem because other people have the same name. For example, she said six of the clients have the same name and do not always give the right birthdate

The Sobering Center also has had a decrease in patients over the last month, which city officials attribute to the opening of the winter shelter, The Roof, in November. The Roof is a seasonal shelter operated through a partnership between the Salvation Army and the city of Farmington as a way of decreasing the number of homeless people who suffer from exposure.

Baird said the city should look at a way of lessening the number of intoxicated people at The Roof. She explained that the Sobering Center is better equipped than The Roof for handling highly intoxicated individuals. Baird said one option the city may have is to set a limit on the blood alcohol content people can have to stay at The Roof.

Hebbe said it is important for The Roof to continue taking in intoxicated people. But he said The Roof could serve as a "damp" shelter while people who are more intoxicated would be sent to the Sobering Center.

Another issue the city has been facing is how to transport people to the Sobering Center. Currently, the San Juan Regional Medical Center contracts with the taxi company KB Cab to transport patients from the hospital to the Sobering Center, and Farmington police officers also take intoxicated people to the Sobering Center.

"The (police department) needs some relief on their guys being called essentially as a taxi service," Baird said.

She said the city is working on a contract with the Salvation Army to have the nonprofit organization provide transportation services to the Sobering Center.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.