State wants local governments to run sobering-up centers

While the Cabinet of Ministers played political football with the issue at its meeting Monday, the Environmental Affairs and Regional Development Ministry (VARAM) told Latvian Radio that the state hopes to encourage the creation of sobering-up centers, offering to grant whatever funds are needed to cover the cost.

At the Cabinet meeting Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma asked rhetorically: "We're taking a decision today. Do any of the ministers want to assume responsibility? I don't see anyone. We've been kicking this ball around for twenty years now to see which ministry will take on the job. How much longer can we keep playing around like this?"

The issue of how to deal with alcoholic beverage abusers who regularly wind up being treated in Latvia’s already overburdened hospital clinic and health-care system has dogged politicians and society for decades. Last year it was agreed that the problem should be tackled as a function of the state government, however the latest VARAM proposal provides for funding from the state budget, yet would mandate that local governments create and maintain the sobering-up centers in their own territories.

Deputy director Arnis Šults of the Local Governments Department at VARAM said the cost of maintaining one patient overnight at a sobering-up shelter could be around 15 euro, which the state is proposing to fund from the national budget. The support would go both to local government councils which already maintain such facilities as well as those where their creation still needs some more encouragement, said Šults.

While some local governments have set up sobering-up centers voluntarily, the problem remains inadequately addressed nationwide. In Riga the Red Cross operates a temporary overnight shelter offering sobering-up facilities, but it shuts down during daylight hours.

While really not much more than a glorified overnight homeless shelter, the Red Cross sobering-up center does provide basic medical care to the few dozen persons who come or are brought there per night on average. The percentage of clients who actually need further medical attention ranges only up to about 10%, meaning that nine in ten are simply there to sleep it off and get a meal.

A proposal to entrust the Red Cross with nationwide sobering-up centers last year went nowhere as the Welfare Ministry dropped the difficult social issue like a hot potato. The situation is difficult to resolve with so many official stakeholders from the public sector – the Interior, Welfare, Health ministries and local governments involved.

Hospitals and clinics in Riga are particularly challenged by the delivery and arrival of inebriated patients with otherwise non-threatening health issues who strain the already-overworked emergency medical system.

Sobering-up centers were once a network of Soviet-era facilities that mostly disappeared with the collapse of communism, although alcoholism remains a pervasive social problem in Latvia to this day. Center staff claim that law enforcement officers need to be called in for support almost every day, delivering an average of

In-patient clinic Gaiļezers spokesman Aleksejs Višņakovs told LSM in October that any medical worker asked about the most difficult aspects of their work will of course affirm that the system is dealing with the problem as best as it can.

“We’ve got stabbings, shootings, heart attacks, major injuries. But those alcoholics take up so much of our energy and attention,” he said.

Statistics show that about 12,000 people each year wind up using sobering-up facilities, leading to estimates that total annual costs to care for them would run about 420,000. - ja gada laikā atskurbšanas telpu pakalpojumus izmanto apmēram 12 000 personu, gadā tās varētu izmaksāt ap €420 000.

Each sobering-up center would be staffed by a medic, a social worker, police officer and custodian, according to envisioned plans. Local governments might spend up to €35 per person per night, €15 of which the state is proposing to cover, provided the facilities stay open round-the-clock. About €180,000 would be needed from state budget resources to make it happen.

Katrā atskurbšanas telpā būtu nodarbināta viena ārstniecības persona, sociālais darbinieks, policijas darbinieks un apkopēja. Pašvaldības vidēji uz vienu atskurbšanas telpā ievietoto personu tērētu 35 eiro, no kuriem 15 eiro tiktu kompensēti no valsts budžeta ar nosacījumu, ka pašvaldības nodrošina personām atskurbšanas pakalpojumus diennakts režīmā. No valsts budžeta būtu nepieciešami apmēram 180 000 eiro gadā.

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