BOISE -- The end of the legislative session is in sight, and bills are heading to the Governor's desk. Now, a bill aimed at helping mentally ill minors is ready for Governor Otter's signature. Physicians said the important thing in this bill is it makes the laws for mental health holds the same for adults and minors.
St. Luke's in Boise is unique, with a children's emergency room and children's intensive care unit. They get a mentally ill minor in their hospital every couple of weeks. House Bill 291, which will soon be signed into law, will change things for them.
"This is a bill that our emergency room doctors have been working on for a number of years to make sure we get it passed. It allows them to now hold minors if there's a mental health issue, so it's been very important to them and it's something they weren't able to do in the past," said Ken Dey, spokesperson for Saint Luke's Health System.
Dey said the concern is that patients can leave on their own against the advice or wishes of medical staff. In addition, he said that although it's not common, it has happened.
Idaho Medical Association and their CEO, Susie Pouliot brought forth the bill this session.
"We have a meeting every summer whereby our member physicians bring us ideas and initiatives that they want us to pursue with the legislature, and that's where this originated," said Pouliot. "It was a problem that was occurring, and brought forward by a pediatric ER physician who found that this was a problem in not being able to address these sad situations.
Pouliot said their member doctors told them they face the problem of not being able to put a mental health hold on mentally ill minors "quite often."
"The purpose of the legislation is to create some consistency and clarify that physicians should have the authority to place folks on a mental health hold when they're in danger," she said.
Current law says police and physicians can place adults on a temporary mental health hold. Only police can place minors on a temporary mental health hold
"I think it's a greater benefit to the patients and the doctors as well. Obviously we're looking out for the well fare of the patients," Ken Dey said.
The Idaho Medical Association said this will help keep everyone safe.
"Part of our mission is not only to advocate for physicians and their patients, but for the general well-being of the public health, and so we feel this is a victory for public health," Pouliot said.
The bill not only allows doctors but also physician's assistants nurse practitioners to put mentally ill teens in protective custody. The Idaho Medical Association said this is important for rural Idaho, where there may be fewer doctors available.