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Local mental health officials prepare for crisis services transition

Trying to ensure a smooth transition for the county’s mental health mobile crisis services, local officials discussed on Tuesday the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities the current system provides.

On June 21, it was announced that Mind Springs Health would no longer be contracted by the state to provide mental health mobile crisis services to Region 1, which consists of 22 counties including Grand, and a new entity, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, would be taking over. 

Following the announcement, Mind Springs partnered with Rocky Mountain Health Plans to help create a community-informed transition plan ensuring the health and safety of Grand County residents, which was discussed at a meeting of the Grand County Mental Health Task Force on Tuesday.

“I think it’s up to us as a community, if it is (an outside provider), that we do figure out how we support them, how we educate them and set that up for success,” said Makena Line, outpatient program coordinator for Mind Springs’ Granby clinic.

Mind Springs will continue offering mobile crisis services through Aug. 31 and then will have emergency services available only for clients. Outpatient services through the Granby clinic and West Springs hospital will not be affected. 

After Aug. 31, whomever Rocky Mountain Health Plans contracts with will be responsible for crisis services.

A spokesperson for Rocky Mountain Health Plans said no one would be available for comment until after the holiday weekend.

READ MORE | Grand County’s mental health infrastructure

For the last five years, Mind Springs has been responsible for providing a mobile emergency response when a community member is in a mental health crisis.

This can happen any number of ways, including law enforcement or hospital providers calling Mind Springs to an incident. Crisis responders can also receive calls from the person in crisis or from someone on their behalf and respond to these calls at schools, homes and community spaces, if possible.

Crisis Hotlines

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Colorado Crisis Services: 1-844-493-8255

Text “Talk” to 38255

The system requires formal partnerships and professional relationships between Mind Springs, Middle Park Health and the county’s law enforcement. Many concerns about the transition focused on Rocky Mountain Health Plans’ lack of general knowledge about Grand County’s system and the sharing of resources between partners.

“In talking to (a representative from Rocky) yesterday, she didn’t truly understand the braiding of funding and what that means in rural communities,” said Jen Fanning, executive director of the Grand County Rural Health Network. “It’s been able to let us utilize the services 24/7 at a lower cost for everyone involved.”

On top of that, an outside provider wouldn’t have the local relationships that many providers say make the system work smoothly. Local law enforcement and community partners praised the crisis responders from Mind Springs for being quick and helpful in emergencies, thanks to their knowledge of the community and their partners.

Bethanie Reynolds, director of nursing for Middle Park Health, said the process of handling a person in crisis has gotten a lot quicker thanks to the local help provided by Mind Springs.

“There’s been a lot of progress in that regard where we get a mental health evaluation, typically within an hour, and it’s not very often that the patient is in the ER longer than 24 hours,” Reynolds said. 

Beyond the strong existing relationships among local organizations, another major concern raised at the task force meeting was the ability to maintain, if not increase, the capacity of providers in the county.

“I think wherever you look in the process, everyone is short-handed,” said Sheriff Brett Schroetlin.

Currently, there are only 11 full-time mental health providers in the county, but because Mind Springs Health covers several counties, it can take advantage of staff outside the county to make up an on-call team of seven licensed providers to respond to crises 24/7.

More providers would also help mitigate some of the concerns regarding burn-out raised by providers during the meeting.

However, it remains unclear how much of a financial commitment Rocky Mountain Health Plans will make in Grand County. Funding for the Behavioral Health Navigators and the crisis transport service is running out, but local officials are working to sustain them and hope Rocky Mountain Health Plans can help.

Reynolds highlighted the potential costs to the hospital to create a whole new system to work with the new provider or Rocky Mountain Health Plans.

“That cost, if we have to put another system in, is going to increase exponentially for us, which is not part of our planned operating budget,” she said. “I know we are a large entity within the county, but we are still a small business and there are other vital services we offer the community, so where do we pull these funds?”

Ultimately, a list of concerns and questions, along with a map of the county’s mental health infrastructure, will be shared with Rocky Mountain Health Plans before representatives visit the county to see for themselves.

A representative of Rocky Mountain Health Plans will be at the next Grand County Mental Health Task Force meeting on July 15, and the organization will host a public listening session at 12:30 p.m. July 17 at Granby Town Hall.

Martin: Today we debut our mental health series

Mental health issues are not a problem that can easily be solved, but they can be brought to light. People’s stories can be told and barriers to care can be exposed.

That’s the goal of our four-part mental health series, the first installment of which is published in Friday’s print edition and on our website.

We originally set out to share stories of local people suffering from mental illness. That was over a year ago. But it evolved as we dug deeper into the subject, uncovering surprising statistics and information that illustrates how large of an issue mental health has become in our communities and the problems people face when accessing care.

Talk about mental health is shrouded in a societal stigma, but we were fortunate enough to have many local people willing to share with us their experiences. Throughout our months of reporting on this topic, we verified our belief that those people with mental illness are truly no different than us. Anybody can be struggling inside, and you wouldn’t necessarily know it just by looking at them. With that, we appropriately titled our series: They are us. Many people seem to hold fast to their stereotypes of people with mental health issues, but we have set out to break those notions.

As we gained momentum in our reporting, we held a community meeting to hear the public’s greatest concerns regarding mental health in Grand County. We were pleasantly surprised at how many people were willing to openly talk about their struggles and be involved in our series. And at how many took an interest in the subject, wanting to see change.

Of those we interviewed, we found many stories to be connected to the same systemic problems facing the local mental health care infrastructure and an overwhelming local stigma.

We understand that this series won’t remedy all the problems here. Instead, our mission is to start a public discourse about mental illness, to highlight the things needing change, to share the often intimate, uncomfortable stories of your friends, neighbors and co-workers who are trying to work through an invisible, internal crisis. We want to give mental illness a visible face.

We’re here to say that struggling with mental illness isn’t something that should be hidden or shrugged off. When people realize this they can begin to deal with the problem and, hopefully, encourage others to do the same.

Read the first installment of our mental health series here.

Bryce Martin is the editor of Sky-Hi News.