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LA County's plan to keep Skid Row's intoxicated out of jail and the ER

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Los Angeles County opens its first sobering center Monday, on Skid Row. It will primarily serve homeless, intoxicated people who might otherwise be picked up by police or paramedics and taken to jail or an emergency room.

Until now, "first responders were actually stuck having to wait with those individuals at the hospital for hours at a time until they actually were admitted," said Al Naipo, a spokesman for L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. "And of course, they were unable to respond to other calls."

The county built the Dr. David L. Murphy Sobering Center on Skid Row to break this expensive cycle, he said.

Now, emergency responders will be able to take inebriated people to the Center to sober up and be referred to treatment and housing programs. There will be on-site nurses and social workers to help connect chronic alcoholics with the assistance they need.

The Center can house up to 50 people at a time, and will be open 24 hours a day. The county expects it will treat 2,000 people a year. 

Exodus Recovery Inc., which runs the Mental Health Urgent Care Center at MLK Medical Center, is partnering with the county to run the Sobering Center. 

There are a number of other sobering centers around the country, including in San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Houston. They're an increasingly popular approach to reducing emergency department overcrowding and ambulance diversion rates.