Looking toward a local option: Recovering alcoholic mounts drive for Hot Sulphur Springs treatment center
Grand County, CO Colorado
Joe Rayfield has paid a hefty price for alcoholism.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” he said. “And I’m a grateful one because I’m still alive.”
The 47-year-old Hot Sulphur Springs resident suffered an alcohol-induced heart attack and stroke in 1998 and was paralyzed from the neck down for longer than a year.
Following 12 years of sobriety and having sponsored 25 others who faced similar struggles, Rayfield then “made a bad choice in my life,” he said: He relapsed.
Less than three months in, Rayfield was charged with a DUI upon leaving a bar in Grand County.
“It’s me that made the mistake,” he said. “Instead of picking up the phone, I picked up the bottle.”
But a month before his DUI sentencing, the years of abuse again took a toll on Rayfield’s health. He suffered a mini-stroke while driving, wrecking his motor home in Byers Canyon.
“I’ve spent more of my life trying to stay sober than I have drinking,” said Rayfield, who first turned to the bottle at age 16. “But when I did drink it got me in trouble. Once I start drinking, I can’t stop. I’ve lost my house, trucks, boat, everything, and ended up where I am today, with nothing. What I could I sold to get booze.”
Jail or treatment?
During his four months stay in Grand County Jail for his DUI sentence, Rayfield counseled fellow inmates about his knowledge of treatment, having been through it himself.
“That’s when it really hit me how many people out there really want help,” he said. “There are people that belong in jail, and there are people that belong in treatment.”
But treatment is not easy to come by in Grand County.
This realization gave Rayfield new purpose – he is now on a quest to help develop a treatment facility in Grand County.
“I want to help other people, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I think it’s what God put me on this earth for. This project is keeping me sober – I work at it day and night.”
Coloradans are less likely to receive treatment for substance abuse when compared to the U.S. as a whole.
In a major study conducted in 2006 by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Colorado is one of four states providing the lowest level of service to substance abusers 12 years old or older.
In a March 2007 Community Health Survey focused on Grand County, “alcohol abuse” ranks third in a list of top 10 community health problems. The Health Survey states that more than half of Grand County respondents identified access to counseling and support as a top need for curbing alcohol abuse.
But the closest long-term treatment facilities are on the Front Range and in Grand Junction.
“Returning to their home community, individuals in recovery face a multitude of social challenges along with the disruption of their treatment plans,” the study states.
Meanwhile about 85 percent of inmates in Grand County are jailed due to alcohol- or drug-related events, according to Grand County Sheriff Rod Johnson.
“I really think that one of our problems in Colorado is that we don’t take on the problems until the person gets in jail,” said Johnson.
DUIs are one of the highest revenue sources of Colorado West Mental Health facilities, according to Tom Gangel, rural resort regional director for Colorado West, which covers 10 counties like Grand County, all including ski areas.
This begs the question: Are more people drinking in these counties, or could it be the function of law enforcement?
“Our communities attract-risk takers; probably a little of both,” Gangel said.
“The need is huge for treatment centers,” Johnson said. “The problem is paying for them.”
Paying for a center is the number one hurdle Rayfield faces.
On June 21, he conducted a meeting on the subject to brief top county officials, and has since recruited “foot soldiers” to help him search for available funding to buy a building in Grand County that could house a 90-day treatment facility – deemed the most successful in producing outcomes of sobriety.
For now, he has set his sights on the former Riverside Hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs, bank-owned and in foreclosure. Hot Sulphur, Rayfield said, would be a desirable location for those undergoing treatment because of its proximity to county services and for its hot springs.
But for such a facility, Rayfield may need to obtain a special use permit from the town. The subject is pending town review as early as August.
“I wish I had the money to buy that building right now,” Rayfield said. “I’d buy it and donate it to the county. But I’m broke.”
Once any building is in place, Colorado West Mental Health has indicated they’d be willing to run the treatment center, which for a 20-bed facility can cost around $1 million annually, plus roughly $55,000 in start-up costs such as recruitment of staff and training, according to Gangel. A combination of client payments, private donations, grants, and state funding can cover costs.
The region would benefit mostly from a 90-day center in the “more affordable” $13,000 per-person fee range, Gangel said.
“Thirteen-thousand dollars is inexpensive compared to the increase in earning potential for folks who have succeeded in treatment and no longer have a substance abuse problem,” Gangel said.
Many agree that in order for the center to be viable, it would have be open to people from beyond Grand County as well.
Rayfield appears undaunted by the challenges at hand, holding steadfast to the sheer goal. “When I pop this idea to people, they say, ‘We’ve needed that for years!'” he said.
“I’m all for the treatment of substance abuse,” said Grand County Social Services Director Glen Chambers. “I would like to see a program happen somewhere.”
Yet all recognize that Rayfield has embarked on a monumental task.
“But this is how things happen,” Gangel said. “One or two people start raising the flag, and raising it again. And then bringing it back when people are saying ‘we can’t do it.’
“It really does take a crusader like Joe to make that happen.”
– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603
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West Grand seniors Rene Dominguez, right, and Angel Dominguez pass the baton during one of the nighttime relays at the 2021 Joe Shields Invitational at WGHS.