Two local officials named to state Behavioral Health Task Force |

Two local officials named to state Behavioral Health Task Force

Grand County reps hope to bring rural perspective

Deb Ruttenberg, human services director for Grand and Jackson Counties, and Jen Fanning, executive director of the Grand County Rural Health Network, were both named to the state Behavioral Health Task Force.

When mental health resources are needed all over the state, how resources are divided and shared becomes a crucial question. It’s one likely to be at the center of the discussions had by the state’s new Behavioral Health Task Force, which meets for the first time on Monday.

Grand County will be represented on the task force by two local health officials, Jennifer Fanning, executive director of the Grand County Rural Health Network, and Deb Ruttenberg, human services director for Grand and Jackson Counties. Fanning will be on the main task force and Ruttenberg has a seat on the safety net subcommittee.

“Hopefully this will give Grand County and the whole Western Slope the ability to impact some of those systems changes in a deeper way than we’ve had the ability to do before,” Fanning said. 

The task force is made up of 100 people broken into four groups: a main task force, a safety net subcommittee, a children’s behavioral health subcommittee and a long-term competency subcommittee. It’s main goal is to create a “Behavioral Health Blueprint” by June 2020 and improve behavioral health services throughout the state. 

On the safety net subcommittee, which aims to offer a roadmap to ensure everyone can access services regardless of barriers, Ruttenberg said she wants to highlight some of the unique challenges of rural areas. 

“Issues such as a lack of providers which creates long wait times to be seen by a clinician, few therapists to see children younger than 12 and long distances to travel to see a provider are just a few of the specific barriers to care I plan to share,” she said.

READ MORE | Grand County’s mental health infrastructure

Fanning echoed the sentiment, saying she wants to bring the rural perspective to the conversations and make sure the state and larger communities understand how resources are utilized in our county.

“I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of the mental health needs and the system, not only in Grand County, but the entire northwest region,” she said. 

For example, Fanning said she plans to bring up the recent state decision to contract with Rocky Mountain Health Plans for crisis services, despite Mind Springs Health having infrastructure and relationships already within the community.

She also hopes to make sure that all of the conversations are comprehensive and include discussions of housing, transportation, insurance and other social services that can either be a barrier or an aid to care. 

In Grand County, a lack of affordable housing makes it hard to attract or retain mental health providers and practicing in a small community has significant challenges for providers that don’t happen in larger towns or cities.

“I want to make sure that whatever initiatives, however we move forward, that it’s aligning with all these other things because we can’t do work in silos across the state, we have to do it together and we have to look at mental health as a piece of the puzzle, not the whole puzzle,” Fanning said. 

At the task force’s first meeting, Fanning said she expects the agenda to be mostly about planning and building relationships, since the members come from all over the state. The members will also have to pass a test before they are officially on the task force.

Since the goal of the task force is to outline a plan to use resources more effectively and improve mental health, Fanning said conversations with community members, those with mental illness and mental health providers will be integral to advocating in a community informed way. 

Anyone with input will also have the opportunity to contribute through town halls and discussions around the state.

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