Part 2: Legislation aims to fill gap in Idaho mental health system

Posted at 9:06 PM, Feb 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-20 12:35:48-05

The Idaho Health and Welfare Department is addressing lawmakers the session in attempts to add a housing facility for the developmentally disabled in the state of Idaho. Right now, no such secure facility exists.

As 6 On Your Side reported, a Canyon County woman has spent the last 10 years bouncing between state operated facilities, but because no secure facility is available, Katelyn Hodges continues winding up in the legal system, despite being found in competent to stand trial.

According to Katelyn's mom, Renee Williams, Katelyn suffers from a variety of mental illnesses and developmental disabilities and has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old.

"She can tie her shoes, she can take a shower, she has trouble rinsing all the shampoo out of her hair like those kinds of things, just picture an eight year old and what they would need help with," Renee said.

Her physical strength, however, is that of an adult. Katelyn now faces charges for Malicious Injury to Property for breaking business windows on multiple occasions.

But while behind bars, the problems don't stop.

"She's strong, right, so that adds another layer here, and when she gets upset she acts out," Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said. "I've had numerous officers injured by Katie."

Nine officers injured in the last year, and several even out on disability because of injuries inflicted by Katie.

Officials with the department of health and welfare understand the frustrations.

"They don't really have the tactics and abilities to deal with those folks, Cameron Gilliland with the Department of Health and Welfare said.

Katie has also had issues with healthcare workers at state hospitals which has resulted in even more charges, even though Katie has been found in competent to stand trial.

"They are just coming up empty handed and they don't know what to do, so every time she gets in trouble, they have her arrested and she goes to jail and the jail holds her there which is not an appropriate placement," Renee Williams said.

Health and Welfare employees often face physical threats from patients because of inadequate security features, leading to a great deal of workers comp claims and staff out for days with injuries. Right now employees are on able to set alarms or lock doors at existing facilities.

"It's just not safe and so what we end up doing is have our staff serve as security," Gilliland said, "and so we have tremendous issues with that because staff get injured."

According to Gilliland, 40% of their staff makes Worker's Comp. claims each year and 88% of those are based off intentional claimed injuries. But the state doesn't have a permanent solution as for where to house people like Katie, those who are developmentally disabled and pose a threat to themselves and others.

"We know that these people are out there, the issues are out there,  and they're going to be coming before the courts, they're going to be coming before the state," Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue said. "She's not going to be the only one."

"It's a very challenging situation for the state to know what to do with the folks, Ross Edmunds with the Department of Health and Welfare said, "because we don't have a facility that's appropriate to care for them."

Last year alone, the state face $45,000 worth of property damage because of clients Houston State care, in part because current law prohibits them from taking certain measures to secure portions of the facility.

"Under our licensure there we can't lock doors, we can't harden the facility; we can't prevent people from having their private property that might be used as weapons, those types of issues, so we've found that we really need a more kind of, stronger facility for those folks," Cameron Gilliland said.

"The state absolutely has to wrap its head around this issue and obligate the funding to do whatever it takes to take care of these people in our society who need to be taken care of," Sheriff Donahue said.

This year, the Health and Welfare Department is introducing legislation to "establish, operate and maintain a secure treatment facility for persons with an intellectual or developmental disability who pose a substantial threat to others."

"Over the past few years we've been challenged with a few people out there that are quite dangerous," Gilliland said. "It will likely take a few years for the facility to be put together."

For now they are working on a short-term solution, turning one wing at the state hospital South into a "high risk unit" but not quite a "secure" facility.

"We need to be able to have locks for the doors, we need to be able to have alarms in case people get out, we also probably need to get some fencing around whatever the unit will be," Gilliland said, "so hopefully this year it will go through."

"The fact of it is, that needs to be done sooner than later," Sheriff Donahue said.

Click here to watch Part 1 of Katelyn's Story.