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Social services facing many challenges

The lack of employees to fill service jobs, the high cost of living in the valley and the perennial lack of funding for treatment are affecting the lives of substance abusers and the mentally ill in Garfield County.With housing prices beyond the means of many employers’ salary offerings, social services jobs are remaining vacant, and that means a gap in services for those needing substance abuse treatment and psychotherapy.”We’ve had a clinical position open for six months,” said Jackie Skramsted, program director at Colorado West Regional Mental Heath, speaking to the Garfield County Commissioners Monday. “The area that’s been hardest hit is detox. Detox is needing to substantially increase salaries to compete in the current job market, and this increases the cost of services.”Economic growth in the county, most notably the newly opened Glenwood Meadows shopping center, has also had an impact on the limited employee pool.”We’re just one more employer out there” trying to hire workers, she said.But the lack of affordable housing, which the county’s human services commission had identified as the top social problem in the region, is only one of the problems that continues to plague mental health services.”Colorado is 50th in substance abuse (treatment) funding” in the country, she said. “With Referendum C we were hoping we’d be better funded this year. We have seen some modest increase, but nowhere near where we were five years ago.”While Colorado West has received donations to its transitional living center in Glenwood Springs from EnCana and other area companies, funding for drug and alcohol addiction treatment has not reached the levels it saw before the state’s economy took a downturn six years ago.Above and beyond the problems of funding treatment programs, is the rise of methamphetamine use in the county, Skramsted said.”This creates challenges for the hospitals and ERs and our crisis team” because meth users tend to be violent. “Some of these folks are too violent for detox,” she said.Mental health providers are also encountering issues with older addicts whose problems are compounded by dementia and medical conditions.”How do we help these folks who don’t want our help?” she asked. The demands for mental health services also is on the rise. “Mental health is really a big need,” Skramsted said. “People are holding down multiple jobs, they’re commuting more, and there’s more stress on our services.”Ironically, federal and state funding tends to decrease during hard economic times when people are struggling and may need treatment.”When the economy slips and people need more services, the money goes away and there’s a gap in services,” she said. “We see people with insurance who can’t afford mental health services” either because they’re not covered or their deductibles are too high and they are making too much money to be considered eligible for low income consideration.”We call that the middle class,” said County Commissioner John Martin.While Skramsted did not ask for financial help from the commissioners, she did say Colorado West is looking at ways to partner with local government to keep some of its programs going.Contact Donna Gray: 945-8515, ext. 510dgray@postindependent.com


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