A proposal is taking shape to divert frequent users of emergency rooms into a substance abuse treatment facility, instead. Rhode Island’s Department of Behavioral Healthcare has pitched a pilot program for Providence that would transport drunk or high people to a sobering center. Staff there could then connect them with more treatment or housing and job services. Dale Klatzker heads The Providence Center, one of the state’s largest community mental health organizations. He says marshaling the resources to address this social problem will be difficult.
“It doesn’t belong to any one organization or entity or provider or department. And that’s always really hard if there isn’t some overarching leadership," said Klatzker. "So I commend the senators for what they’re doing. But ultimately it’s all about money. And somebody’s going to save money and somebody’s going to have to invest money.”
A plan to fund the pilot program still needs to be drawn up and approved by the General Assembly.
A special senate commission was convened last year to look into the issue of frequent emergency room use by substance abusers. This proposal is a direct result of that commission's findings.