Child Protection and COVID-19: Pandemic is tough for everyone, but it can be especially hard for children

Q: How has the pandemic affected child welfare in Idaho?

A: The pandemic has affected child welfare in Idaho in all kinds of ways. Parents are stressed, children are stressed, everyone is stressed, and we are all staying home more than ever so we don’t get sick or make others sick. That can mean children and families have less support than ever before. This can be a tough combination for healthy relationships between parents and children.

It’s important to know these strange and unprecedented times are affecting all of us and we can all use a little extra support so situations don’t get out of control. There are resources available to help during these particularly hard times. The COVID Help Now Line offers statewide support to anyone who is feeling distress related to the pandemic. Responders can help talk through supports and coping strategies. It’s anonymous and available 8 a.m. -8 p.m. MT seven days a week by calling 866-947-5186.

It’s also important to remember that child protection is a responsibility for all of us, and if you have concerns about a family situation or a child’s safety, it’s important to reach out and report your concerns by calling the Idaho CareLine at 2-1-1.

Continue reading “Child Protection and COVID-19: Pandemic is tough for everyone, but it can be especially hard for children”

Let’s never stop, Idaho! New programs and services offer behavioral health assistance during the pandemic

Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” Emily Dickenson

With the COVID-19 pandemic now firmly sitting on our doorstep, most of us are experiencing our first ever black swan event – a once in a generation major occurrence that has come as a complete surprise, challenges our assumptions and ways of life, and tests our collective strength. While history shows us that all pandemics will come to an end, this one does feel infinite.

Adjusting to the “new normal” is challenging, tiring, and it stretches our perceived psychological limits. We’re all feeling pressure and stress about the economy, our health, our relationships with family and friends, and our jobs amid large spikes of COVID-19 cases across some areas of the state. It’s easy to feel like maybe the best times are behind us.

But during quiet moments of despair we might overlook how much more we are connecting with friends and family via technology, the simple beauty and wonder in our own backyards at dawn and dusk, and the new and surprising habits and traditions we are creating that bring us joy and pleasure.

Although it can often feel like it, you are not alone. The Division of Behavioral Health (DBH) in the Department of Health and Welfare is continually thinking about how to better serve the evolving needs of mental health providers and the public. DBH created a statewide COVID19 Strike Team in April that meets daily to address our specific state needs during the growing public and behavioral health emergency related to the pandemic.

Thanks to funding from our federal partners, DBH is now implementing an emergency grant offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) under the federal Department of Health & Human Services, that is allowing us to offer important programs to help Idahoans. 

Continue reading “Let’s never stop, Idaho! New programs and services offer behavioral health assistance during the pandemic”

Behavioral Health Administrator Ross Edmunds: We’re here to help manage stress and anxiety during COVID-19

Gov. Brad Little’s announcement of a stay-at-home order is a demonstration of his commitment to keeping Idaho as safe and healthy as possible through this unprecedented pandemic. In addition, the Governor has repeatedly expressed his concern for the mental health of all Idahoans during these difficult times.

The advice coming from our partners in public health is to practice good hygiene and use social distancing to control the spread of COVID-19. These are critical to allowing our healthcare system to manage the ever-growing number of people testing positive.

As the administrator for the Division of Behavioral Health in Idaho, I know we all need to follow these recommendations for the health of our communities; however, the steps to control the spread of this virus can have the opposite effect on our mental wellbeing. Isolation, loneliness, and social distancing increase depression, anxiety, and emotional insecurity. Additionally, many of us are experiencing increased stress from financial insecurity, job loss, and fear over the unknown.

We will get through these challenging times together. Just as we always do in Idaho, communities will come together and take care of each other. The power of a simple phone call checking in and letting family, friends, and neighbors know you are thinking of them is invaluable. If you or you know of someone that needs assistance, help is available. Below is list of resources to help you, your family, or friends.


  • Idaho COVID-19 Hotline: call 888-330-3010
  • Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline: call 211 or 208-398-4357
  • OPTUM Idaho member crisis line: 855-202-0973

The Department of Health and Welfare has opened an Idaho COVID-19 Hotline that can be reached by calling 888-330-3010. We have trained professionals ready and available to talk with you and assist you in accessing the mental health and substance use disorder services you need. We also have Behavioral Health Community Crisis Centers located throughout the state that remain open and prepared to assist you.

Please take care of yourselves and each other.

Ross Edmunds
Division Administrator, Behavioral Health
Department of Health and Welfare

Behavioral Health Crisis Centers – A helping hand for Idahoans in need

On an unseasonably warm day early this winter, a young man in a too-long sweater, socks, and baggy grey sweatpants sits outside the doors of an unassuming building near the Boise Towne Square mall, staring at the sky, not acknowledging the occasional passers-by.

DHW Innovation logo with green and blueJust a couple years ago, this man could have easily found himself in a local emergency department waiting for help, in the back of a police car, or on the streets while suffering through a mental health or substance use disorder crisis. But since Dec. 12, 2017, Boise has offered another option: Pathways Community Crisis Center of Southwest Idaho.

After passing through a security check and taking a medical wellness screening, visitors have access to a warm place to stay for the day, food and coffee, a shower and change of clothes, and most importantly – the opportunity to leave with a plan. Having a safety and treatment plan helps visitors to not only avoid a future crisis, but to also work toward recovery from their behavioral health issues. They leave with hope. Hope in the knowledge that there is a place they can find someone to help them regardless of their financial situation. The help could be a peer specialist with personal experience in recovery, a counselor, or a crisis clinician or case manager. They know they aren’t alone in their struggle.

This sign greets clients as they enter Boise’s Pathways Community Crisis Center of Southwest Idaho in Boise. These crisis centers are designed to offer an effective alternative to hospitalization and incarceration to people who may be in mental health or substance-use related crisis.
This sign greets clients as they enter Boise’s Pathways Community Crisis Center of Southwest Idaho in Boise. These crisis centers are designed to offer an effective alternative to hospitalization and incarceration to people who may be in mental health or substance-use related crisis.

“They can feel the sense of urgency is lifting just as they’re working through the intake,” Program Manager Bert Schweickart said. Even being able to wash visitors’ clothes and hand them back cleaned and dried as they leave can have a significant impact on those who are suffering through crisis.

“If they have the impetus to show up, we have the obligation to let them in and do what we can to solve the issue they have,” Bert said. Sometimes, during the initial medical wellness screening, the crisis team determine that they need to be medically stabilized in a more intensive setting before using the crisis center services. When this happens, the team can refer them to the emergency department or advise them to seek other medical care so that they can return when they are stabilized. Pathways provides transportation for visitors who need to be stabilized so they can return and seek help with their crisis. Continue reading “Behavioral Health Crisis Centers – A helping hand for Idahoans in need”

Medicaid enrollment for expansion continues



The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is enrolling eligible Idaho adults in Medicaid who earn up to 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Limit. Benefits for those folks will begin on Jan. 1, 2020.

So if someone applies in December and is determined to be eligible, will they be able to access their benefits on Jan. 1?

Medicaid expansion will be effective January 1. However, depending on when the application and all verifications were submitted, they may not have a final decision about eligibility on January 1. Medicaid operates under what is called month-effective eligibility. That means if a person applies and is eligible on Jan. 6, they will be eligible for all of January.

Open enrollment for buying insurance on Your Health Idaho ends on Dec. 16. Does that same deadline apply to Medicaid?

There really is no deadline to apply for Medicaid. People who think they may be eligible can apply at any time. If you’re not sure, you should start that process now, so if you’re not eligible for Medicaid but you are eligible for a tax credit, there is still time to purchase insurance on the state-based health insurance exchange. Continue reading “Medicaid enrollment for expansion continues”

A day in the life of the Assertive Community Treatment Team in Region 3

(Client names have been randomly changed to a letter to protect their identity.)

To an outsider, it’s a pretty casual meeting on a recent late summer morning. It would be easy to assume clinicians Ashley Hammond, Angela Saitta, and Tara Dennis, and Clinical Supervisor Brian Lindner are discussing family or friends or catching up after a holiday weekend. Until you listen a little closer.

“She’s been stable, but she does have an upcoming (appointment), so we want to follow up on what her plan is for that,” Angela says of Client D, who they’ll be seeing today.

“I’m concerned he may be drinking again because I got a text from him … after missing his home visit,” Ashley says about Client H, who she’ll be seeing this morning.

They celebrate another client who has taken the initiative to contact the Social Security administration on his own: “He is capable of that.”

Another client may not be able to make their rent payment this month, and the team explores programs that may be able to help her.

The team shares a moment of victory as they hear a client will be returning after being out of contact for a while after a medication change.

“Yes, we found him!” Brian says.

“He’s back in (the area),” Angela shares, before the conversation shifts to the best way to connect with him.

“He likes music,” Angela says. “I’ve talked to him about Game of Thrones.”

Group photo from morning meeting
(Clockwise from front left) Region 3 Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team clinician Ashley Hammond, clinical supervisor Brian Lindner, clinician Angela Saitta, and clinician Tara Dennis meet for a recent morning staff meeting.

For clients served by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Region 3 Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) team, mental health support and treatment doesn’t look like what many people may think of as typical counseling or medication management. The team isn’t preparing for a day of office hours and appointments; they are planning for the 16 clients they will be meeting in the community on this day – some at home, some at work, others in challenging living situations because of their serious and persistent mental illnesses and resulting symptoms. Continue reading “A day in the life of the Assertive Community Treatment Team in Region 3”

Mental illness is a chronic health condition that people can and do recover from

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and it’s a good time to remember that millions of people in the United States are affected by mental illness each year. Whether we are dealing with our own diagnoses or helping take care of someone else who might be struggling with mental illness, the impacts are social, financial, and physical. It’s important to know that we are not alone and that help is available.

Can you help with some context around the millions of people affected by mental illness? How common is it?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, around 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness every year. That’s about 48 million people. The group also says that 1 in 25 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness, or 11.4 million people. A mental illness is classified as serious when it affects a person’s ability to be successful in their life at home, work, or school. And speaking of school, kids and teens also experience mental illness — 1 in 6 youths ages 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. So even if you are not counted among those numbers, chances are very high that someone you know, or love, is. Continue reading “Mental illness is a chronic health condition that people can and do recover from”

Construction to begin on skilled nursing facility at State Hospital South

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is extremely pleased to announce that construction will begin Wednesday, May 8, on the new Syringa Chalet Nursing Facility at State Hospital South, 700 East Alice, Blackfoot.

A groundbreaking ceremony will take place at 9 a.m. Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen and State Hospital South Administrator Jim Price will be in attendance, along with Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, Blackfoot Mayor Marc Carroll, and Idaho Behavioral Health Administrator Ross Edmunds. Light refreshments will be served afterward.

“The nursing home serves as a safety net for the residents, many of whom can’t be treated in other nursing homes around the state and cannot return to their communities,” said Jim Price, administrator for State Hospital South, which operates the skilled nursing facility. “The new facility will be safer and have more capacity as it also preserves a feeling of home for our residents, who are mentally ill and gravely disabled and require skilled nursing care.” Continue reading “Construction to begin on skilled nursing facility at State Hospital South”

Gov. Little signs bill expanding access to lifesaving drug for opioid overdose victims

Boise – Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill 12 into law today during a bill signing ceremony to highlight the benefits of a medication called naloxone in saving the lives of people experiencing opioid overdose. He also reminded Idahoans of his forthcoming executive order to address opioid addiction in Idaho.

“My administration is fully committed to fighting the scourge of opioid abuse head on,” Gov. Little said. “We look forward to coordinating with all public and private entities to reverse this epidemic.”

There were 116 known opioid overdose deaths in Idaho in 2017, up from 44 just more than a decade ago – a 163 percent increase.

If an individual has an opioid overdose, a quick administration of naloxone can reverse the overdose and bring the patient back to life. A study found when access to naloxone is enhanced there is a 9 to 11 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths. Continue reading “Gov. Little signs bill expanding access to lifesaving drug for opioid overdose victims”

Free DATA 2000 Waiver training available in two classes in January and February

Medication-assisted treatment is the use of FDA-approved medications in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of Opioid Use Disorder. In Idaho, the two primary medications used in medication-assisted treatment are methadone and buprenorphine [suboxone].

To prescribe buprenorphine/suboxone, qualified physicians, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners must complete a training and apply for a DATA 2000 Waiver, also called an X-license, to treat Opioid Use Disorder with approved products in any setting in which they are qualified to practice. This required training is currently being offered for free in Idaho. Continue reading “Free DATA 2000 Waiver training available in two classes in January and February”