While Austin and Travis County officials explore a proposal to open a sobriety center in the local medical examiner’s office after operations there relocate in 2017, a Ascension Seton doctor involved in the effort wonders what can be done between now and two years hence.
“The medical examiner’s office is a perfectly fine space, but I am hopeful we can do something in the meantime, before it becomes available,” said Dr. Christopher Ziebell, Medical Director of University Medical Center Brackenridge’s Emergency Department, where many of the publicly intoxicated now go.
“I’d rather get something done sooner if we can,” Ziebell said, because someone sleeping off nausea, delirium or other effects of intoxication can occupy an emergency room bed for six to eight hours, meaning it’s unavailable for patients coming into the ER with serious injuries or illnesses.
“Sleeping it off can deprive three other patients of that bed,” he said.
That problem is compounded if the intoxicated person is “loud, agitated, belligerent, or violent to the point of being assaultive,” which requires ER staff to step away from other patients, Ziebell said.
“So nurses and doctors are not there to help any patients experiencing heart attacks, strokes, vomiting or a lot of pain,” he said.
Ziebell hopes plans for a temporary sobriety center can be agreed upon, perhaps opening just on selected weekends in a temporary facility, such as a tent, or in a building close to University Medical Center Brackenridge, Central Texas’ only Level I trauma center. Because so many public intoxication arrests occur downtown, a sobriety center close to the hospital would allow police officers to more quickly return to their patrols.
“Tents on weekends have been done a couple of times with some success,” he said. “It’s convenient for the police, so it should work just as well 100 times a year as it does 3-4 times a year.”