Anchorage's largest detox center reopens after August shutdown

Casey Grove

Anchorage's largest detoxification center has reopened after suspending service in August, when a state audit put the center's nurse staffing in question.

For about a decade, licensed practical nurses at the Ernie Turner Center assessed addicts getting help at the center in dealing with the painful, sometimes deadly, withdrawal symptoms that come with ending long-term alcohol and drug abuse, according to Cook Inlet Tribal Council, which runs the center. But following the audit, the state nursing board said the LPNs, as they're known, were exceeding the level of care their licenses allow.

More extensively trained registered nurses are supposed to conduct a client's initial assessment -- which includes recording vital signs as well as noting a client's tremors, nausea and other detox-specific notes -- because the first assessment can affect a client's treatment plan, the board said.

So the center increased its staffing of registered nurses, at an additional cost of more than $100,000 a year, and was able to reopen Monday, said Kristin English, the Ernie Turner Center's operations director. English said the center has also cut back its hours for admissions, now from 2 to 10 p.m., to enable a registered nurse to always be on shift as clients come in the doors.

Half the center's 12 beds were in use as of Saturday, and English said she expected the other half to be filled by Thanksgiving or the day after.

"We stopped maintaining a wait list when we were closed but within the community there are always people ready for detox," English said. "As soon as the word got out that we were open, we started admitting one by one."

During the closure, more addicts were seeking help detoxing at a local hospital emergency room and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, which was more expensive and put a greater toll on the medical system, English said.

English said the center, one of only two in Anchorage, is still waiting to hear if the state will increase its funding to cover the cost of hiring additional nurses. The center's managers decided to reopen without the extra funding secured because they saw a desperate need in the community, she said.

"We just decided we can't wait for the state to increase our funding to open the doors," she said. So we're running at a rate that isn't sustainable. Hopefully the state will finish its review process and recognize the need and increase the funding."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn. com or 257-4589.