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Behavioral health issues take center stage at Philanthropy Days

Ryan Hoffman
rhoffman@citizentelegram.com

RIFLE — Amid the schmoozing and educational workshops at Mountain Rural Philanthropy Days, attendees spent most of Thursday addressing several key issues, including a shortage of behavioral health services in the region.

The items were identified in a report gleaned from an MRPD listening tour in late February that gathered feedback from stakeholders in Garfield, Lake, Pitkin, Summit and Eagle counties.

While a number of broad issues and concerns were raised during the tour, a lack of behavioral health services, specifically those pertaining to substance abuse prevention and education for youth, emerged as one of the primary concerns in each of the five counties, according to the report. Challenges specific to the region included the party atmosphere in the region’s resort communities; changing views of marijuana use; a shortage of qualified employees; and a scarce number of mental health providers.

Many of the nonprofit and government leaders in the room identified some of the same issues during Thursday’s session, where they expanded on the behavioral health problems plaguing the region. However, the news was not all bad.

Before drafting possible solutions for some of the problems, the group was asked to recognize successes related to behavioral health. Many cited the growing number of school-based health centers in the region as an overwhelming success. Others pointed to the integration of behavioral health care at primary care facilities as not only a success, but a possible solution as well.

Mountain Family Health Centers — which has locations in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Rifle and Edwards — partnered with Mind Springs Health to staff two full-time employees who deal with behavioral health issues, thereby improving access to those services, said Ken Davis, medical director of integrated care for Mountain Family Health Centers. The integrated approach, he said, is really a whole model for health care.

However, with eight out of 10 patients suffering from some form of a mental health or substance abuse issue, MFHC — like other care providers — cannot meet the current demand.

Davis said the organization would need five or six full-time employees to adequately deal with patient needs. He is working on establishing a full-time behavioral health specialist at the Rifle center.

Mind Springs Health, a behavioral health care provider that serves 10 counties and operates the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City, also finds itself struggling to meet a growing patient population.

Whole Health, LLC, a subsidiary of Mind Springs Health, was formed around 18 months ago in partnership with Rocky Mountain Health Plans and hospital emergency departments and practices in Garfield, Pitkin, Mesa and Montrose counties.

The pilot program works to identify at-risk patients and then pair them with a nonmedically trained community health worker who helps identify needs and goals on a personal level.

In working with the most at-risk patients, the program strives to reduce spending on more costly health care services, such as trips to the emergency room, said Amy Gallagher, director of integrated care with Whole Health.

Efforts such as those and others in Eagle, Pitkin and Summit counties are proof that the communities are aware of the problem and working on solutions, which could benefit some nonprofits when they make their pitch to foundation representatives Friday.

When foundations decide which organizations to award grants to, experience is an advantage, said Matt Carpenter, senior vice president of grants at the El Pomar Foundation.

“The level of engagement was impressive,” he said of Thursday’s discussion. “You have a lot of good meaning people who want to do good for the community. It’s exciting to see.”


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