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TWIN FALLS — Gov. Brad Little discussed this week with local providers a new strategic plan aimed at improving the behavioral health services available in Idaho.

The plan, which the state released earlier this month, details recommendations the Idaho Behavioral Health Council developed over the last year. The council is made up of representatives from multiple state departments and each branch of government, including local Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome.

Little highlighted the importance of this plan to providers during the Idaho Recovery in Action Summit held Thursday evening at the College of Southern Idaho’s Herrett Center. Recovery in Motion, a recovery center in Twin Falls, and Magellan Healthcare sponsored the event.

“We all know that recovery, substance abuse, mental health, permeate everything we do in Idaho,” Little said. “Whether it be our corrections system, our courts, our hospitals, social services, schools and many other areas.”

The plan illustrates this in some of the data collected. For example, according to the document, the Idaho Supreme Court spent about $7.7 million on treatment court operations during this fiscal year.

Additionally, the report states there are 3,325 people on psychotropic medications in state prisons, which is 48% of the in-state population. The Idaho Department of Corrections spent nearly $1.5 million on these medications from January through November 2020.

“Lack of access to effective behavioral healthcare has an impact on the corrections system, the judicial system, hospitals, schools, and communities, leading to challenges such as a growing prison population, overdose deaths, and a very high suicide rate just to name a few,” the strategic plan states in its executive summary.

The plan includes a list of recommendations the council developed, as well as a three-year timeline by which these will be completed. The first two recommendations are scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.

One of the recommendations calls for the development of a workforce plan to help increase the number of licensed or certified behavioral health professionals throughout the state. The other recommendation calls for improvements to the process through which the courts can order a person with a mental illness into treatment.

Dave Jeppesen, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare director — who also spoke at the event — said the council developed the plan and its recommendations by examining the state’s entire behavioral health system.

“Our objective was not to dive into one problem,” Jeppesen said, “but really step back and look at the whole system and say what’s working well — and we need more of that — what’s not working well — and how do we fix that — and what’s just missing, and how do we get that into the system.”

Along with Little and Jeppesen, a number of people connected with local behavioral health groups spoke at the forum.

Prior to the governor speaking, John Brannen, director of Recovery in Motion, presented Little with the Idaho Champion of Recovery Award on behalf of the Idaho Association of Recovery Community Centers. He said the governor has remained supportive of the nine recovery centers and six crisis centers located throughout the state.

The investment is needed in a state with one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

“We’ve been behind the ball instead of in front of it for a long, long time,” Brannen said.

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This article originally ran on magicvalley.com.

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