County OKs plan to simplify mental health care | AspenTimes.com

County OKs plan to simplify mental health care

Pitkin County commissioners approved a plan Wednesday that aims to make it simpler for county residents in need of mental health or substance abuse services to get them.

The $50,000 Be Well Initiative will try to stitch together the numerous agencies and nonprofits in the Roaring Fork Valley that offer those services with an eye toward establishing a continuum of care to better address people's needs and catch those who fall through the cracks, said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County's public health director.

"This is looking at a system-level coordination (that takes into account) prevention to aftercare," Koenemann said. "There are a lot of services available. We're fairly resource-rich."

However, those resources often don't talk to or coordinate with one another.

"Residents within the system struggle to smoothly move within the mental health continuum of care," according to a memo by Connie Baker, county budget director. "Providers are challenged to connect residents to the programs/services which would best serve their needs, crisis care organizations are wrestling with turf issues and there is a perception with residents of the community that organizations are not responding adequately to the mental health crisis."

The new initiative envisions hiring a coordinator to work with valley organizations that offer mental health services, reduce the fragmentation and come up with funding strategies that combine money from Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, the Aspen School District and Aspen Valley Hospital to target organizations who work together, according to Baker's memo.

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"Sometimes it's hard to know who to contact," Koenemann said.

The 2016 Pitkin County Public Health Community Needs Assessment found that mental health and substance abuse disorders continue to grow, according to Baker's memo. Suicide, for example, is the fourth leading cause of death in Pitkin County, though it ranks seventh statewide, the memo states.

In addition, county residents who responded to the 2016 Pitkin County Community Survey indicated that they don't feel the county is doing enough to address mental health issues.

The county will pay 60 percent of the $50,000 to hire the new coordinator, while a grant from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing will pay for the rest, Baker said. The county hopes to hire a person to fill the position by September, Koenemann said.

"We've needed this for quite a while," Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said.

Commissioner Steve Child agreed.

"What we're trying to do here is provide better services for the community," he said.

The idea of hiring a coordinator to wrangle all the different mental health and substance abuse options available in the valley is similar to one in place at the Aspen Police Department. The department hired a human services officer at the beginning of the year who is responsible for identifying programs and services available to homeless and mentally ill members of the community and helping them obtain those services.

jauslander@aspentimes.com

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