SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – Phase two of Operation Rio Grande aims to assess and treat the homeless with mental health and substance abuse issues. Agencies and clinics across the valley are teaming up to provide much needed care.
Dr. Todd Thatcher is the Chief Medical Officer for Valley Behavioral Health. He says his team helped with Phase One by placing crisis workers in the field as police arrested hundreds.
He says, “That group of people that do not have substance abuse and mental health problems that are breaking the law otherwise criminals, often times they will prey on our vulnerable mentally ill, so we are very supportive of taking care of that problem with the police and the court system.”
Thatcher says collaboration between clinics is key. “If someone goes to Odyssey House or First Step House, they might not specialize, for example, if they identify someone who has a severe mental illness and criminal problem that needs to be managed with probation officers, that’s something that we would specialize in and have residential programs for.”
One way to measure treatment in Salt Lake City is the number of beds available. Over the next four months, 241 beds are slated to open, 151 of those at the Odyssey House.
Christina Zidow is the COO and she says, “We are converting properties that we already own, we are moving around some additional capacity so that we can be ready. It’s a pretty intense process, but we have an amazing team.”
But she’s worried about funding. “To increase the number of staff we have, the number of buildings we have all requires some ongoing investment to provide the level of therapeutic service that will make this project successful.”
It will take time to measure success, substance abuse and mental health treatment can take years. But both Thatcher and Zidow say they are up for the challenge.