By Cameron Rasmusson
If you’re in the midst of a mental health crisis after hours in Sandpoint, you don’t have many places to turn.
You could try the emergency room at the hospital, sure. But that’s going to net you a huge bill, and chances are, you probably can’t afford it. Other than that, there are few places or professionals people can rely on to handle emergencies.
For mental health nonprofit NAMI Far North officials, the lack of resources for the community’s most vulnerable residents is a troubling reality. In response, they’re launching North Idaho Crisis, a hotline staffed by licensed professionals able to talk locals through a crisis and, if need be, contact law enforcement for further assistance.
While hotline organizers are starting out small as a part-time service, the idea is to establish the program as a cost-effective and reliable service for the region. That will hopefully provide the foundation for a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week hotline, according to program director Catherine Perusse.
“You’ve got to start out small and prove your value,” Perusse said.
The NAMI team takes inspiration from similar hotlines in several small communities around the Northwest, including Hamilton, Mont. They say there’s a tried-and-true model for the North Idaho community to easily adopt.
“If Hamilton, with a population of 4,500, can have a mental illness crisis center, why can’t we?” said NAMI board member Ann Ferguson.
Perusse’s goal is to have the hotline up and running by Jan. 1. They’re currently seeking licensed professionals willing to work the hotline on an evening-by-evening basis, which is the project’s primary expense. Otherwise, costs are relatively low.
According to Ferguson, NAMI Far North officials have already secured support from several local organizations. Among the strongest support comes from the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force, which has offered to fund the hotline staffing costs for a month.
Residents have a chance to learn about the project in more detail at an upcoming community meeting. NAMI representatives invite the public to drop by Sandpoint Community Hall 12 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 4 to learn more.
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