Valley’s ‘Resource-Rich’ Mental Health Community Helps Counter Discouraging System


The system is not working.

This is clear after a six-month investigation by the Colorado News Collaborative that found that the state mental health safety net ‘Fails’ at the Coloradans due to a lack of meaningful oversight to ensure that state-funded mental health centers are delivering the services communities need.

COLab also discovered that Mind Springs Health – one of 17 community mental health centers that collectively receive more than $ 437 million a year in Colorado state taxes to provide behavioral health services in 10 Western counties. Slope, including Pitkin and Garfield – is a particular sensitive point. Eagle County has become so frustrated that it has formed a separate Community Mental Health Center to meet needs that Mind Springs is not; Summit County, where officials have strongly criticized Mind Springs, is severing ties with Mind Springs and considering joining the new center of Eagle County instead.

Hans Lutgring, the Mind Springs outpost outpatient program director in Glenwood Springs, knows there is a greater need for mental health services in the Roaring Fork Valley than the Community Mental Health Center in the region cannot answer on its own.

“I’ll be very comfortable and clear in saying that the demand for our services far exceeds our capacity… but I think every behavioral health care entity here in the county, let alone the West Slope, is focused. challenge by, “we’ve had more demand than we have for capacity and bandwidth (for) services,” Lutgring said.

This isn’t particularly encouraging news, according to Chelsea Carnoali, a mental health analyst at Pitkin County Public Health.

“It’s really, really difficult when someone is in a very vulnerable place and really needs these services, and when there is a barrier to finding something – when there is the barrier of having the courage and investment, especially if someone is in the throes of depression or really struggling with a mental health issue and some external cause that might be, ”Carnoali said.

Carnoali recognizes the value of identifying obstacles and problems that need to be resolved. She also worried that hearing or going through these disheartening experiences might deter people from seeking help.

This would be the very opposite outcome of what mental health officials and advocates have aimed for in their work to reduce the stigma surrounding seeking help and promoting a culture change in the way Roaring Fork Valley approaches mental health, she said, which is why she and other members of the valley’s mental health community continue to promote a message of seeking help. via one of the many local resources.

Mind Springs is “not the end of everything,” Carnoali said. “There (are) options.”

Panelists Miller Ford (left), Pitkin County mental health analyst Chelsea Carnoali and Aspen Strong executive director Angilina Taylor take part in an “Aspen Together” mental health event focused on the prevention of suicide and promoting a conversation about mental health at the Wheeler Opera on Monday, November 29, 2021.
Austin Colbert / The Times of Aspen.

Gabe Cohen, a former Mind Springs customer and employee, experienced the frustration of the system firsthand. He is recovering; when requesting services from Mind Springs, he said he faced long wait times and relapsed between appointments.

“I remember going there because I wanted help and then coming out of it anxious” through the long process he would have to go through to continue getting service there, he said.

This shouldn’t be interpreted as a reflection of the people who work for Mind Springs as much as the system they work in, Cohen said.

“I have friends in Mind Springs. … I think they hire great people who help and want to help and have a big heart, ”Cohen said.

Discovery Cafe executive director Gabe Cohen begins a recent recovery circle meeting.
Chelsea Self / Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Cohen has since founded the Discovery Cafe, a resource center at Colorado Mountain College Rifle Campus for people recovering from addiction, living with mental health issues, experiencing homelessness or other challenges. There are recovery courses and support systems but also food, an open gym and other services.

The Discovery Cafe is not a substitute for clinical care. But it does help fill in the gaps and provide support to those in need while they wait for their chance to receive more formal care, Cohen said.

Michelle Muething with Aspen Hope Center talks about the collaboration between the Hope Center and local police departments.
Chelsea Self / Glenwood Springs Post Independent

Aspen Hope CenterMichelle Muething sees the “benefit and merit” of having both a community mental health center and specialized services to help when needed.

Muething is the executive director of the Hope Center, specializing in crisis response services and crisis prevention education. This is just one piece of the pie that includes so many agencies that focus on patient care as well as those that provide other support systems to those in need.

Kayla Bailey, Aspen Outpatient Program Director for Mind Springs, sees the valley’s mental health care community as a “resource rich” ecosystem.

“I think we have a really amazing community that puts a lot of effort and value into making sure our community is stable, especially (with) their mental health,” Bailey said.

Mind Springs Aspen Outpatient Program Director Kayla Bailey, right, presents suicide prevention tips with clinician Megan Baker during an Aspen Together mental health panel at the Wheeler Opera House on Monday, November 29, 2021 .
Austin Colbert / The Times of Aspen.

Yes, there are still unmet needs, Bailey admitted. This is especially true for people who are not at high risk for crisis or other serious mental health problems and who have insurance as there are a limited number of providers who accept insurance in the valley; these low-risk insured clients may have to wait a few weeks for an appointment, when a person in crisis may obtain service much sooner.

But there is also a willingness to help.

“I believe there are enough resources to go through that, and enough people who care and have the resources to create the resources if they’re not there,” Bailey said.

Muething wants to be clear that the situation is not “hunky doris”. Identifying the problems in the functioning of the state’s community mental health system and highlighting the gaps that exist in services is crucial for progress, she said.

“The system has to feel the pain of a community losing confidence in it for change to happen. … Exposing negativity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because that’s how you change something, ”Muething said.

The wheels of change are already turning, and have been for some time, according to Carnoali of Pitkin County Public Health.

Pitkin County Public Health contracts with the Mind Springs Aspen site for community and school behavioral health services. Mountain Family Health Centers in Basalt has the subcontract for integrated care, which requires a doctor’s office.

With the county’s support comes additional responsibility and oversight, too, according to Carnoali; references that would come with any contract also apply to Mind Springs.

The contract is also not a lifelong contract, and the process to apply for it in Pitkin County is expected to begin in 2022 on the heels of the county planning to complete a needs assessment and a community mental health gap analysis. resource system, Carnoali said. (This assessment process began this fall with a community survey and provider-specific mental health survey.)

Having this information will help county officials assess what the support could and should look like in the future, Carnoali said.

“We are taking steps forward,” she said. “We will be proactive in trying to figure it out. “

Glenwood Springs Post Freelance journalist Rich Allen contributed to this story.

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