- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2016

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho (AP) - In its first year of operation, the Northern Idaho Crisis Center has helped treat more than 1,000 people.

Since the doors opened last December, the Coeur d’Alene facility has helped provide help for people who are experiencing crises related to mental health of substance abuse issues, The Spokesman-Review reported (https://bit.ly/2gHtxyh).

In some cases, that means making arrangements for a client’s pet or service animal, as was the case when a homeless woman arrived with her incontinent tom cat.

Executive Director Don Robinson said animals weren’t something he initially considered and that this first year has been a learning experience.

“We’re building the plane while we’re flying it,” Robinson said.

Other things learned include serving only decaf coffee, due to some clients’ anxiety issues, and stocking up on diabetic-friendly snacks.

Local officials say they crisis center is making a difference in northern Idaho.

“It’s a tool that fills the gap for us on people who don’t require a protective custody hold, or that we don’t need to take to the emergency department, but who really shouldn’t be left alone,” said Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger.

The center was expected to save the community about $2 million in emergency room costs and jail stays in its first year of operation, but Robinson said that’s hard to quantify.

“That’s a strange kind of math, because I’m assigning a dollar value to something that didn’t happen,” Robinson said.

Over time, local officials hope the crisis center will help reduce suicide rates in northern Idaho, which rank among the highest in the nation.

“We have known that we needed this resource in the community, and it is making a difference,” said Lora Whalen, director of the Panhandle Health District.

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Information from: The Spokesman-Review, https://www.spokesman.com

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