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April 10, 2011
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Mental health counseling service opens office in Rifle

A new mental health counseling service is getting started in the Garfield County region, intended primarily for families who need the help but can't afford traditional counseling fees.

Its function is to provide "pro bono" mental health counseling, meaning it is free to the client.

Mental Health America in Colorado, which has been operating a pro bono outreach program in Denver for 26 years, has a new office in Rifle run by long-time local resident Steve Aurand.

Aurand, who has a 20-year history of work for Garfield County Human Services and YouthZone, said he is busy recruiting counselors and therapists willing to volunteer their services, and hopes soon to sign up the agency's first local client.

The new service is aimed at serving clients whose families are earning $75,000 a year or less, and who are U.S. citizens.

The requirements, Aurand explained, are similar to the qualifications for the TANF federal assistance program, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

"The potential clients would be a lot of families that might be struggling with constant stress. Maybe they've lost their job, or they're going through the divorce process, or kids who might have some kind of mental health issues," he explained.

Such families typically have no insurance, and are not qualified for Medicaid or other forms of government assistance due to income guidelines or other issues, Aurand explained.

His program is not set up to help people who are in a mental health crisis, with suicidal feelings or other serious indications of mental instability. It's designed for people experiencing depression, anxiety or "overwhelming stress."

Those interested in getting help can call the Mental Health America toll-free number, 800-456-3249. The number connects callers to the Denver office of the organization, which will in turn connect the caller to a counselor in this area.

Aurand has been recruiting counselors who will offer their services for free, and as of early April he had signed up five.

His goal for this year, he said, is to have 10 counselors serving approximately 20 clients.

The therapy, he said, "really is going to be left between the therapist and the client. If somebody needs help long-term, they can get that help." Aurand said he has made connections with other mental health agencies in the area and will be working with them to make sure clients still get the services they need.

Sharon Raggio, CEO for the Colorado West Regional Mental Health Center in Glenwood Springs, said her organization already provides assistance to the needy, but she welcomes the addition of Mental Health America to the community.

"We're delighted to have Steve's group and the pro bono services in the valley," Raggio said. "It's a good complement."

Raggio said 45 percent of Colorado West's overall case load is what is known as "charity care".

"We offer a lot of pro bono services," she said, explaining that Colorado West offers services on a sliding scale that permits clients to receive therapy for free, or for $25 to $65 per month, depending on income.

For that amount, she said, clients get a month's worth of services that include individual or group therapy, case management and some crisis services.

And while Aurand was still searching for a therapist who speaks Spanish, Raggio said her agency has a few Spanish-speaking therapists.

"I don't know anybody who has a lot of Spanish-speaking therapists," she said. "We're always looking for bilingual therapists."

With the addition of Mental Health America, more resources are now being used to help area residents deal with mental health problems.

Mental Health America of Colorado works under a $1.38 million budget, according to Jacy Conradt, community relations manager of the Mental Health America office in Denver. It has satellite offices in Pueblo and now in Rifle. The budget of the Garfield County operation, she said, is $100,000 for this year and next, half from federal TANF funds and half from Mental Health America.

Raggio said Colorado West's budget for the three-county area - Garfield, Eagle and Pitkin - is approximately $2.2 million. Colorado West served 13,000 people throughout Colorado last year, including about 2,000 in Garfield County.

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The Post Independent Updated Apr 10, 2011 11:00AM Published Apr 10, 2011 10:57AM Copyright 2011 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.