The Center for Hope and the Behavioral Health Crisis Center are teaming up to provide emergency assistance in Idaho Falls for those suffering from addiction and/or mental illness.

The centers are pooling their experience and resources to assist those in recovery with their short and long term needs, and their leaders are drawing from their own struggles to make both locations a safe space to ask for help.

Nancy Espeseth, who began working as the Center for Hope’s executive director Feb. 4, previously worked as a case manager at the Behavioral Health Crisis Center. Since taking her new job, she’s been working with Crisis Center Executive Director Hailey Tyler to best utilize the organizations’ resources.

The two centers are located at 530 Andrews Drive. The Center for Hope moved next door to the Crisis Center in August, allowing the centers to collaborate more effectively.

Plans to place the centers next door date back to 2014, according to Tyler, but Espeseth’s appointment has allowed those plans to accelerate.

The Behavioral Health Crisis Center offers emergency care for residents suffering from addiction and mental illness. Anyone in need of help can go to the center to stabilize.

“We have people who come in who are struggling with their mental health, anywhere from thoughts of suicide to anxiety and depression to active psychosis,” Tyler said.

Those struggling with addiction can also go to the center to detox. Beds are available for 24-hour use, after which the center helps the patient create a long-term plan.

Counselors will often walk patients to the Center for Hope. Whereas the Crisis Center focuses on emergency care, the Center for Hope provides rehabilitation and recovery services to help community members stay sober.

Tyler said Espeseth is the “key” to this collaboration. After previous executive director resigned suddenly in December, Espeseth agreed to replace him.

Larry Manring, the previous director of the Center for Hope, cited personal reasons for his decision to resign. For the next month, the center was run by volunteers who made sure the doors were open and meetings began on time.

“All of that continued without interruption thanks to the volunteers,” said Mark Cukurs, volunteer coordinator for the Center of Hope.

Espeseth brought experience as a counselor at the Behavioral Health Crisis Center and her time working for the Idaho Department of Correction.

“The first month, I’ve got to say, has been enjoyable,” Espeseth said. “With my previous employment at the Department of Correction, we have been able to build that partnership as well.”

Espeseth and Tyler also work together on community outreach, speaking to leaders at various organizations that work with people in recovery. The Crisis Center assisted 560 clients in the first two months of 2019, according to data provided by Tyler.

Patients in crisis stay in a shared living space while they recover. Most of the guests are men because the center does not accommodate children.

If a guest is particularly struggling or having suicidal thoughts, they can be given their own room, with staff checking in every 15 minutes.

The Center for Hope provides open meetings for recovering addicts, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Crystal Meth Anonymous, and generic recovery meetings. Computers are available for job hunting and other needs.

The two centers are connected by a kitchen area, but Tyler typically takes guests outside to visit the Center for Hope. While they may work together, she says it’s important for them to remain separate because the Behavioral Health Crisis Center is primarily a government-funded program, whereas the Center for Hope is a nonprofit funded by donations.

The centers are also working with the Idaho Department of Correction to help former inmates recover from addiction. Typically, a person on probation or parole could be charged with a violation for relapsing on drug use. Probation officers may sometimes give that person the opportunity to spend a night at the Behavioral Health Crisis Center instead of going to jail while they detox.

“The state has recognized that our hospitals are too full, our jails are too full, and in a lot of cases we’re able to do a rapid stabilization for these folks and prevent that long stay that’s costly,” Tyler said.

Having the Center of Hope next door means Espeseth and staff can reduce the likelihood guests will reoffend.

Espeseth also draws from her personal experience to empathize with those visiting the center.

In 2013, Espeseth was charged with and found guilty of misdemeanor driving under the influence. The arrest cost Espeseth her job as warden of the Pocatello Women’s Correctional Center. She was arrested again in 2015 for a second DUI offense, and for a third in 2017.

It’s an experience Espeseth is reluctant to revisit, only sharing it with people she feels will benefit from.

“I guess the big picture for me, what it has developed is the desire and the passion to serve people in need with mental health and substance abuse,” Espeseth said. “But a lot of it’s the same because what we’re doing, whether I was working for the Department of Correction or working at the Crisis Center or the Center for Hope is providing people with the opportunity to change.”

Cukurs also draws on his experience to help him empathize with the recovery process. Cukurs began recovery 14 years ago. He joined Alcoholics Anonymous, though he used drugs as well as alcohol. A friend suggested he train to become a recovery coach. Cukurs splits his time working with volunteers at the Center for Hope and data entry at the Crisis Center.

Tyler added that clients respond better to those who have lived through their experience.

“I think it’s a huge blessing to our community to have Nancy and Mark in the positions they are,” Tyler said.

Reporter Johnathan Hogan can be reached at 208-542-6746.

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