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Ada County to use ARPA to fund mental health counseling, support for first-time parents, but not some other programs

Ada County moved ahead on four programs to help boost low-income residents or those dealing with mental health issues using American Rescue Plan Act funds this week. 

On Thursday, the Ada County Commissioners opted to use roughly $5 million of the county’s allotted $93 million from the federal relief package, which was approved in 2021, toward several programs aimed at providing counseling to Ada County students, support to low-income mothers and their children, and new light fixtures that cut down on viruses in county buildings. 

Of the five proposals considered at the meeting, the only one to go back to the drawing board for more work was a pitch from Central District Health to spend $138,000 on a harm reduction program for drug users in the community. Commissioners objected to a program provision that would have provided kits to those experiencing addiction, including silicone pipes for safer drug use. A proposal for the program without this component will return for consideration at a later date. 

So far, Ada County has identified $24 million worth of projects to spend its ARPA funds on, with another $5.6 million in the pipeline for approval. Another $53.5 million of the federal funds are still unplanned. 

Support for new parents

Two of the programs Ada County gave the green light for targeted first-time, low-income Ada County parents. 

The first initiative is the Nurse-Family Partnership Home Visiting program. In this voluntary program, Registered Nurses would be able to visit expecting mothers for home healthcare visits leading to the birth of their child and until they turn two. These visits include education on available resources and parenting, medical checkups, and support to avoid medical problems for either baby or mother during the pregnancy. 

Possible participants would be referred by local health systems, the Ada County Jail, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, and Child Protective Services. The program would cost roughly $725,000 over nearly three years. 

Dawn Bridge, Ada County’s grant administrator, told the commissioners many low-income mothers can’t afford prenatal medical care or can’t get to appointments due to their work schedules or their lack of a car, so this program aims to bring that care to them and improve health outcomes. 

Support would not stop after a mother has their child, and they hit their second birthday. A second program Ada County opted to fund with ARPA money is called Parents as Teachers Home Visiting. It would provide in-home visits from certified parent educators to support parents in their child’s development. The program’s goals include improving children’s readiness for school, detecting developmental delays or other disabilities early, preventing child abuse or neglect, and teaching parents about early childhood development. 

The program would cost roughly $260,000 for nearly three years. Both programs will have a review for effectiveness at nine months. 

Mental health, substance abuse counseling for students

Youth is the focus of the next two programs Ada County approved. 

The first initiative would create a partnership between Central District Health and BPA Health to create a program allowing students in Ada County to access up to five free counseling sessions. Similar to an employer EAP, this program would create a network of providers statewide that can serve students in person or through Telehealth. Schools or parents would refer children to providers within the network that match their needs. 

BPA Health also provides a critical response team to serve a school if there is a community crisis or some other traumatic event where a large number of students are looking for mental health support connected to the same incident. The program will cost roughly $3.6 over nearly three years of the program length. 

Training professionals who work with youth on how to recognize signs of substance abuse and refer kids to treatment options is the focus of the fourth program. The $108,000 would fund a “train the trainer” model to teach people who work in Ada County schools or in youth-used organizations in the SBIRT method of addressing substance abuse, which stands for screening, brief intervention, referral, and treatment. 

Any treatment for substance abuse would require parental permission, but if this program is implemented, parents would have the option to sign a waiver allowing their kids to have conversations about their substance abuse without parental permission. 

“This has been widely used throughout the country,” Bridge told the commissioners. “They have seen success, and it’s helping build a confidence with kids, especially with COVID there was an uptake with substance abuse in the high school age kids or even middle school, and this is giving them a safe space to say ‘hey I need help.”

Yes to UV lights, but pumps the breaks on harm reduction

Ada County also green-lighted a pilot proposal to install UV lights inside the ductworks of the Ada County Jail. 

The idea behind this technology is that it would kill viruses circulating through the ductwork of the building, which can spread illness to inmates and staff. Commissioner Kendra Kenyon noted the jail struggled with staff shortages during 2020 because of COVID-19 circulating through the building and causing employees to have to be out sick for days at a time. 

The installation would cost $203,000, and if it works, the county will look to install the lights into the ductwork of other county buildings that see high traffic, like the Courthouse. Commissioner Ryan Davidson said jail inmates are at risk of contracting illnesses because they live in such close quarters with so many other people, so finding a way to stop disease from spreading throughout the building is good for both the people in the county’s care and the taxpayers.

“Anything to keep them healthy, so we keep our medical costs down is a good thing,” he said. 

The sixth proposal the county considered gave them more pause. The program, which Central District Health would administer, would aim to reduce drug overdoses in Ada County. The program would include outreach to people dealing with addiction about safer use and how to respond to overdoses. The program would include the distribution of “overdose and prevention supplies,” like Narcan, and supplies to smoke drugs instead of using needles for drug injection, which can cause more overdoses. The program would also include education on how to prevent overdoses among users. 

Earlier this summer, staff from Central District Health presented some of these grant program ideas to the Ada County Commissioners and took questions on this program. Staffers said a part of the program would encourage users to replace glass pipes with silicone ones, which do not shatter if dropped. A broken pipe can cut someone and hasten the spread of blood-borne pathogens. 

Ada County legal staff and Commissioners opted to take this program back to the drawing board to remove the distribution of drug paraphernalia from the program and to keep the distribution of Narcan and the educational components. There were concerns that the county might not legally be able to distribute paraphernalia, and commissioners did not want to use taxpayer funds for the program. 

“This assists in the use of an illegal drug, and I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” Beck said. “But if we can help the community by providing that shot that if they have an overdose, let’s do that.”

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Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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