A federal government shutdown looms, here’s how it affects some RFV services

Gridlock in Washington has all but guaranteed a federal government shutdown starting on midnight Saturday. 

The Roaring Fork Valley benefits from federal dollars and departments, and some of their most urgent uses — fighting wildfire and helping families secure food and childcare — could be affected by the shutdown. 

Here’s what we know so far.

Will federally-backed social programs like SNAP stay available?

In short, foot insecurity-related programs are in the most danger. As long as the shutdown is less than a month, serious interruption to benefits in other programs is unlikely.

Pitkin County Human Services Interim Director Sam Landercasper said programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are in the most danger of interruption.

“Starting this coming week of October, people who are expecting to get their monthly allocation for SNAP and WIC might not get that,” he said. “Folks who are low income — and especially in our region, where the cost of living is so high — folks who are receiving SNAP and Medicaid are very low income. So that’s a huge impact on their ability to provide food for their families.”

Pitkin County has about 260 people on SNAP, according to Landercasper. That number would be higher, he said, but with such a high local cost of living, many individuals don’t qualify for the program because their income is too high for federal standards. 

He also noted that he believes WIC has a small contingency fund that could carry it through part of a shutdown, though he was not sure how long. 

For folks on Medicaid, he said interruption will likely present in reimbursement to healthcare providers and not in care for patients. 

For families who receive assistance to pay their childcare bills, the state of Colorado will continue to support the program, he said, through the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program For Families.

And while most of this is uncertain, Landercasper noted that schools that received federal assistance for student lunches and Colorado Works, the state version of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), could be impacted. 

For families in need of food or support during the shutdown, he pointed to partners like LIFT-UP, Harvest for Hunger, and Food Bank of the Rockies. The county Human Services department also has limited City Market gift cards available and commodity bags meant to feed families for a few days until they can go to a food pantry. 

Its office is open Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m.

“A month (-long shutdown) is kind of that cusp,” Landercasper said. “If we started to look at things going on longer than a month and you’re starting to see people not getting multiple sets of benefits, you’re starting to see areas where some of these reserve funds are running out and then those programs discontinue.”

What happens if a wildfire ignites on public land?

In short, someone — either a federal wildland firefighter team and/or a local fire department — will address any fire incident on public land during a shutdown. 

The White River National Forest covers 2.3 million acres from Rifle to Summit County and Independence Pass to the Flat Tops north of Glenwood Springs. Within that acreage, the Aspen-Sopris Ranger District covers more than 700,000 acres. The Bureau of Land Management also holds significant acreage in the Roaring Fork Valley. 

Both departments retain their own firefighting teams, which respond to emergency calls and engage in prevention work like prescribed burns. And the firefighting community is a cooperative one, many interagency agreements and organizations exist to ensure resources are pooled to increase chances of success against wildfires. 

According to Aspen Fire Protection District Chief Rick Balentine, federal firefighters are essential workers. They and their resources — like aerial firefighting aircraft — will be made available in the event of a wildfire.

“Federal firefighters are considered essential workers. So they continue working, even without pay, and they get caught up,” he said. “It happened once before. So really nothing changes in terms of response or readiness; it’s still the same.”

He does not recall if it was the 2018-2019 shutdown or sometime earlier that he worked with federal firefighters during a shutdown. But he said that non-emergency work like prescribed burns will not occur during a shutdown. 

Acting Public Affairs Officer for the White River National Forest Olivia Blake said that all requests for comment are being routed through the Washington office for the U.S. Forest Service. That office did not respond to a request for comment by Friday evening. 

Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District Chief Rob Goodwin said that even if federal firefighters are furloughed or otherwise unavailable, his department will respond to incidents on public land as they always do.

“If (a fire on public land) happened, we would do our normal process. At the beginning, we would make sure we made the calls to the Grand Junction dispatch center and ours. And if there’s anybody that may be on call, at least they’re notified,” he said. “And then we will respond to it. And then we would order whatever appropriate mutual aid from our local and regional resources we thought needed to respond to mitigate that problem.”

He noted that fire departments from Summit County to Garfield County started a program called Mountain Area Mutual Aid, which provides a resource-sharing apparatus. 

State-funded resources, like a Chinook helicopter based in Montrose, are also available for regional wildfire use. Glenwood Springs Fire Department used the Chinook in a recent wildfire event.

The Longevity Project: Triathlon is a sport for all ages

Editor’s note: This is the third of the series The Longevity Project, a collaboration between The Aspen Times and the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.

Biking, running, and swimming at any measurable distance prove to be challenging workouts. Roll all three into one race and you have an event that would push the boundaries of anyone’s body. But for a women’s team of triathletes in the Roaring Fork Valley, that challenge can be conquered alongside strangers turned sisters and plenty of adaptive training.

“We’re good at teaching people the sport. And we’re teaching them to believe in themselves, that they have more than they think they have to give,” said head coach Carla Westerman, 59. “We teach them to enjoy what they’re doing, and that the process of ‘becoming’ is way better than ‘being’ part of it. The process of becoming that triathlete is better than being a triathlete.”

The Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon team was founded in 2000 by Judy Haynes and Nancy Reinisch as an outlet for women of western Colorado to reconnect with athleticism they may have known in their youth. But over the years, the team’s mission evolved to introduce women of any athletic ability to triathlons. 

The team generally consists of about 25 returning athletes and 25 first-timers, or “babes” as they’re affectionately called on the team. 

Training starts mid-May, with the women committing to two weekly training sessions as a team, plus whatever they can do on their own time. Coaches teach the team about road running, trail running, hill running, track running, road and triathlon cycling, and swimming in a pool then open-water swimming.

The summer of training culminates in the Outdoor Diva Sprint Triathlon in Longmont on the third Sunday in August. It consists of a half-mile swim, an 11.8-mile bike ride, and a 5k run around Union Reservoir.

Team member Audrey Imhoff celebrating after completing the open-water swim portion of a race.
Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team/Courtesy Photo

Last month, the team celebrated its 24th season, and 45 team members competed in the race — some taking first place in her division.

Age spread among the athletes ranges from 17-68 last season, but the team has recruited women up to age 73 in the past. 

“It’s not just the fastest ones or the slowest ones — that’s not really what we’re about. We have a space for everybody,” Westerman said. “And we will make it as comfortable as we can, and we will do everything we can to get you across the finish line.”

Westerman, alongside co-lead coach Sharma Phillips and a roster of six assistant coaches, have designed a program to prepare the team for the race in Longmont since 2018, when she stepped up as lead coach. 

They focus on meeting women where they are and challenging them to perform their best and never sell themselves short as a competitor or teammate. Westerman herself started on the team in her 40s without a storied athletic career behind her. But the team met her where she was and taught her the tools to succeed. 

“I learned to swim at the ripe old age of 45 (or 46) and completed my first sprint distance and was hooked. Hooked on the sport, hooked on the team. I guess it filled a void in my life,” she said. “I’d always had this image in my head of an athlete that I wanted to be, but didn’t quite know how to get there until I joined the team.”

For assistant coach Sydney Miller, 29, joining the team was a natural next step. She swam in college, committed to CrossFit for a while, and coached triathlon at Colorado Mesa University. But after moving to the Roaring Fork Valley in 2020, she was looking for a community. 

COVID-19 threw a wrench in her plans — then she became a mom two-times over — but this past season, she finally got to participate with the team. 

“It was just physically good for me, emotionally good for me, and mentally good for me to be a part of a team like that,” she said. “I was around so many women that had the same mindset and same goals and like-mindedness of wanting to push themselves to be better and help each other.”

She coached swimming for the team and said that coaching for a group of women ranging in age from 17-68 differed greatly than coaching a group of 18-22-year-old college athletes. For one, she said, everyone wanted to be there. 

Athletes Lisa Fitzwilliams and Linda Rosenmerkel after a race.
Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team/Courtesy Photo

“Coaching was so easy because the team wanted to learn, and they just soaked it all up so much,” she said. “Every practice, it was like, ‘OK, what can we do better? Can you watch this? How can I improve this?'”

But challenging moments arose when a certain drill wasn’t clicking or a lingering injury complicated a set. Miller said that happened a fair bit with the team, but refocusing her team member to an adaptive move or stressing the importance of rest prevented injury.

“Sometimes you just need to have someone feel your frustration and just listen, take it in,” she said. “(Addressing the issue) was either changing the set, so they can still participate or just having them rest and knowing and reassuring them that rest is OK. It’s not going to hold you back. It’s not going to deter you from your goal. It’s just reminding them that yes, it’s frustrating, and it’s hard. But the more we take care of it now, the faster that we can get around it and get you to that end goal.”

For one team member, learning the value of rest came down hard. Sherrie Setterberg, 66, has competed with the team for 12 years, serves the team as assistant coach, and shows no signs of slowing down. 

She’s been competing in triathlons for about 34 years, just after the birth of her oldest child. In high school, she said her sport was synchronized swimming, noting that she was a teenager when Title IX passed. 

“I would say that triathlon is what picks me up, it gives me that reason to kind of push through, and I love it for that. I just love it. I really don’t see myself stopping,” she said. 

She plans her race schedule every January — entrance fees are lower if you sign up early. And she once even qualified for nationals, which serves as a motivator to keep improving and qualify again, especially after a grueling year for her health. 

About five years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After a mastectomy and starting on a year of chemo treatments, a skier collided with her. That crash resulted in a broken femur and a severe concussion, she said. And the main thing that kept her motivated was the hope of competing again. 

“The sport of triathlon was my carrot. It was like, I’ve got to get through this. I’ve got to do my PT, I’ve got to finish my chemo. I waited for my doctors to say, ‘Yep, go ahead.’ (The doctor said) I won’t be able to train all summer like you really want,” Setterberg said. “I couldn’t push against the wall while swimming because my chest still wasn’t up to speed … And I said, ‘I don’t care how I do. I don’t care if I’m not trained up; I just want to go.'”

And the summer following cancer treatment and the crash, she competed. Training was complicated because she still couldn’t push off the pool wall, and her femur was recovering, but her teammates got her through it.

Roaring Fork Women’s Triathlon Team athlete Jillian Sutherland running.
Elise Meyer/Courtesy Photo

Everyone agreed that the sisterhood among the team is what makes it so special. Making intergenerational friendships and sharing advice, competitive drive, and compassion keeps the team close-knit.

“We start as 50 strangers. And then as the season goes on, and they are training together, and they are riding in our cars at the Harvey Gap when we started our open water training, and they start to make these connections with each other,” Westerman said. “And by the time we get (there), we’re a team of sisters.”

The next Longevity Project event is slated for 5:30-7 p.m. on Oct. 4 at The Arts Campus At Willits (TACAW), 400 Robinson St., Basalt. The panel is titled, “How to maintain mobility, balance, and athleticism throughout life” and will feature experts in the field.

Tickets can be purchased at aspentimes.com/longevity-project-2023-fall.


Two rabid bats in one year prompts Pitkin public health to remind public about rabies precautions

Two bats tested by Pitkin County Public Health have tested positive for rabies this year. It may seem like a small number, but compared to years past, it’s a significant jump — and one rabid bat in contact with people is one too many. 

“I have coordinated rabies testing for the past six years, and during that time, there was only one (rabies) positive bat I can remember in the last five summers,” said Carlyn Porter, the county’s emergency preparedness and response program administrator. “This year, we have had two from different areas of the county, which is rather unusual.”

She said her office normally works a fair number of bat-related calls each year, but the animals rarely test positive for rabies. Rabies is a viral pathogen that is nearly 100% fatal in humans if left untreated. It can spread to people and pets if they are bitten or scratched by a rabid animal.

The end of summer usually marks the winding down season for local bats, and Pitkin County is home to at least eight species. It’s rare for a bat to make a home inside a structure, and those that do usually are creating a nest for their young or seeking shelter while ill. Porter said that bats flying around outside are less likely to have rabies than bats found indoors. 

Most bat species hibernate or migrate for the winter, according to a Pitkin County Public Health press release. 

Why Pitkin County has seen two rabies-positive bats this season is less clear. Porter said bats are a known reservoir species for rabies in the state, and their habitat being in close proximity to humans in mountain regions increases risk of exposure. 

The county recently reported a potential local transmission of West Nile Virus, another vector-borne disease, and hypothesized that climate change might be responsible for its presence in the high country. But Porter reiterated that the data to support that claim is years away.

“There’s always the possibility of increased vector-borne disease with climate change, but it would take more years of data to determine if this is a true trend or not,” she said.

What to do if you come into contact with a bat

If you spot a bat in your house, the county recommends this course of action:

  • Never touch the bat with bare hands.
  • If the bat can be contained in a room without direct contact, such as by closing a door, do so.
  • If you attempt to capture the bat (which is not recommended), wear thick, long sleeves and leather gloves.
  • Once the bat is contained, call your local animal control to collect the bat

If you wake up to a bat in your room, Pitkin County Community Response Officer Emily Casebeer said to contain the bat in the bedroom, so the bat can be captured by animal control and tested for rabies. It is unlikely a bite would wake a person, she said.

“Because (bats) have a small mouth and tiny teeth, it doesn’t take much to keep them from being able to bite you,” she said. “But if you need to handle it …. (wear) something as simple as a leather glove, or rubber gloves and a big fluffy towel, (which) will prevent them from being able to bite through that and get to your skin.”


Vaccination protocol differs between humans and pets. 

  • For pets: Vaccines are available and recommended for all dogs and cats. Speak to your vet regarding vaccinating your pet.
  • For exposed individuals: Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is available for individuals identified by public health as being a high-risk exposure to rabies. PEP recommendations are made based on the type of exposure and individuals should not seek vaccination without consulting with public health. PEP for rabies includes five different shots over the course of two weeks and, if recommended, must begin within 10 days of exposure.

Remediation efforts such as closing gaps or entry points in homes is generally an effective preventative measure against bats coming into a home. 

As dangerous as rabies is to humans and other animals, Porter does not recommend attempting to catch or kill bats. 

“Most bats here are healthy and don’t want to hurt or come into contact with people. I wouldn’t recommend trying to catch or kill one, as doing so may increase your risk of accidentally touching the bat and risking a bite or scratch,” she said. “If the bat is simply flying outside, please leave it alone and observe from a distance.”

Access to mental-health resources keeps patients from seeking help

Editor’s Note: This story is part two of a three-part series on mental health in the Roaring Fork Valley. Read part one here.

Last year, Mental Health America — a non-profit dedicated to the promotion of mental health, well-being, and illness prevention — ranked Colorado as having the worst ratio of prevalence of mental illness to access to care in the country.

The relatively narrow portion of people accessing mental-health care — 53.6% of individuals with a mental illness received treatment in Colorado, according to 2022 MHA data — is partly due to workforce shortages in mental healthcare, cost of care, and ghost networks, according to Vincent Atchity, CEO and president of Mental Health Colorado.

The occurrence of ghost networks, according to him, happens when health-insurance providers ostensibly have a network of care providers for customers, but many of the care providers do not exist or are not accepting patients. Consequently, customers are left without access to quality care.

According to him, the Colorado Division of Insurance is tasked with identifying and addressing ghost networks but is struggling with enforcement due to the prevalence of the issue.

“It’s such a sprawling mess that it takes time to correct for, and the pipeline of folks going into providing care for mental health is not exactly a wild rushing geyser of people,” he said. “It’s tough work that is comparatively poorly compensated.”

In the Roaring Fork Valley, there are only three psychiatrists serving the region, according to Psychology Today’s database. And psychiatrists are not always accepting new patients.

A source who was under the age of 25 when searching for one in the Roaring Fork Valley said they faced difficulties associated with their age since the only psychiatrist available did not accept patients younger than 25.

“The big thing is going to be thinking about how we recruit providers to our area,” Aspen Outpatient Program Director at Mind Springs Health Kayla Bailey said. “The challenge that we consistently find here in our valley is that when we’re recruiting outside of this valley, the expectation is that the individual is going to have to find housing, which is very, very difficult.”

The 2022 Regional Health Assessment for Pitkin, Eagle, and Garfield counties also identified the lack of access to mental-health services in the area as a key issue. According to the report, there are 27.7 psychologists and 43 licensed clinical social workers per 100,000 people in the region. Statewide, there are 43.9 psychologists and 75.3 licensed clinical social workers per 100,000 people, although the state’s demand for mental-health services still exceeds the capacity of available resources.

After surmounting the challenge of finding a psychiatrist who is accepting patients, the cost of seeing a psychiatrist can be prohibitive — the initial appointment costs between $300 and $500 without insurance and subsequent appointments cost between $80 and $200 on average, according to K Health, a consumer health company.

HeadQuarters, a Basalt-based, mental-health organization focused on mental fitness, has a Mental Health Fund aimed at providing financial assistance for mental-health services. The fund allows local therapists to access subsidized therapy sessions for uninsured or underinsured clients, awarding up to 10 fully-funded therapy sessions.

The local requirement can present a challenge due to the limited availability of mental-health providers in the area. HeadQuarters Executive Director Angilina Taylor acknowledged that the mental-health landscape has evolved towards telehealth and said she hopes for the Mental Health Fund to eventually cover providers outside of the local region. However, she said that is not yet possible given the current funding available for the fund.

Atchity described a “non-system of a system” where Medicaid is set up to provide affordable care for eligible enrollees, but there are often long waitlists even if a client is eligible. Many providers also do not accept insurance at all, meaning that the cost of a session must come out of the patient’s pocket, according to him.

Bailey said that while most people who request services can be seen for mental-health counseling within a couple of weeks, the waiting period for psychiatric care can be much longer.

Navigating available mental health resources

Another major reason people are often discouraged from seeking help is due to the complexity of identifying and locating the proper care, according to Atchity. Scarce cultural competency, misdiagnosis, long waitlists, and a lack of inpatient psychiatric care contribute to the difficulty of accessing the appropriate resources.

The 2022 Pitkin Area Co-Responder Team annual report also found that multiple system involvement and a lack of communication among agencies and organizations can lead to confusion, creating a barrier to accessing mental-health services.

“When you’ve got a mental-health condition, regardless of acuity level, finding your pathway to care and supports and services is nowhere near as reliable and straightforward as finding your pathway to having an appendectomy or having a broken limb set or something like that,” Atchity said.

In April 2021, Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill into law establishing a statewide Behavioral Health Administration. The goal of the administration, according to Division Director of Policy and External Affairs Ryan Templeton, is to coordinate a cohesive and effective behavioral health system across Colorado.

Despite the duplicative efforts of behavioral health organizations, there are still many unaddressed gaps in the behavioral health system. He said the BHA is working on identifying and filling those gaps.

One of the issues he said the BHA has identified is a lack of access to services and a clear starting point for people seeking menta-health support. Termed a “front-door” or “no wrong door” approach, he said the BHA is exploring how to create a more straightforward pathway to accessing care. He said the BHA has anecdotally heard from Coloradoans that navigating the vast network of mental-health resources can act as a barrier to finding the right support services.

“If you go to a place to receive care, you should have access to the care that you need, whether it’s there directly or gets the coordination to or navigation where you need to go,” he said. Often, people report being discouraged after getting turned away from resources without any guidance on where to find the appropriate care they are seeking. “They just throw their hands up and say, ‘This isn’t a system for me.’ We can’t have that in Colorado. That’s how people die.”

Nowhere to go: Isolation in the Roaring Fork Valley

When Andrew Parrott was recently hospitalized at Aspen Valley Hospital for bipolar disorder, more than 40 hours passed before the hospital was able to locate a single available in-patient bed for him in the state of Colorado.

Once a bed was located, nearly a full two days later, he was transported five-and-a-half hours by a private security company to Colorado Springs. After receiving care in the hospital, he was discharged — still medicated — and left alone to face the task of getting home.

Parrott’s situation is not unique; in fact, the closest in-patient psychiatric care to Aspen is located in Grand Junction, still more than two hours away.

“We know that we’re lacking a lot of those beds in Colorado, a lot of those sites in Colorado, and access to those types of services,” Division Director of Policy and External Affairs at the Behavioral Health Administration Ryan Templeton said.

As of 2016, the Treatment Advocacy Center reported that there were 543 public psychiatric beds, or 10 beds per 100,000 people, in Colorado. That number is significantly less than the recommended minimum of 50 beds per 100,000 people to provide adequate treatment for individuals with severe mental illness.

According to Atchity, the in-patient bed shortage arose as the nation shifted away from asylums as people began to recognize they were not producing positive health outcomes, without implementing any alternative.

“As we closed those large warehousing environments, they were never replaced with anything to meet the needs of a critically ill population,” he said.

To address the shortage of in-patient beds, Templeton said the BHA is working on developing a reimbursement model that does not disincentivize higher acuity care. To do so, the funding streams must be associated with a certain level of care, complicating the funding plans.

Templeton said the BHA also plans to focus on ameliorating the insufficient availability of in-patient care by expanding “step-up” and “step-down” facilities, which refers to the continuum of care. 

“We’re missing some of those spots to keep people out of those highest levels of care,” he said.

Bolstering community-based facilities — shorter-term care, such as crisis stabilization units and residential care — could help reduce the demand for psychiatric hospitalizations, according to Templeton.

In addition, he stressed the need for “step-down” or “step-out” support to facilitate smooth release from in-patient hospitalizations, improving the rate of bed turnover by ensuring that beds are continuously opening up as people are released.  

While Parrott was eventually able to access the care he needed, the isolated nature of the Roaring Fork Valley can exacerbate mental health issues and impede access to supportive resources. 

According to Aspen Hope Center Executive Director Michelle Muething, many clients experience feelings of depression and isolation because they are far from family members. Only a few cities have direct flights to and from Aspen, resulting in expensive airfare. The high cost of travel in Aspen can be a deterrent to people planning visits to family members in Aspen, or to Aspen residents hoping to travel to visit family members.

In addition, the dispersed geography and extreme weather conditions of Colorado can make it more difficult to access care. 

“When somebody needs care, there is no local option,” Atchity said. “When somebody needs urgent crisis care, and it’s a blizzard outside, then your logistical obstacles are tremendous.”

Identifying gaps in care

Recognizing the sprawling network of resources and lack of coordination among them, Pitkin County Human Services created the Mental Health Access Program. Human Services Director Lindsay Maisch said a group of people in the mental health field have been working over the past few years to identify and fill gaps in the area’s system of care in order to reduce barriers to people accessing care.

MHAP was born out of that effort with the goal of establishing the infrastructure to collect cohesive community data. They accomplish that by partnering with Mind Springs Health, Recovery Resources, Aspen Hope Center, Mountain Family Health Center, and Aspen Valley Hospital to better understand how current funding is impacting the community.

“That’s a pretty good subset of who is accessing mental health services and at the community level,” she said.

The kind of collaboration facilitated by MHAP can help coordinate care across organizations addressing mental health and reduce redundancies in the work being done.

When Parrott found himself in the Aspen Valley Hospital, he said he noticed a lapse in communication between the Pitkin Area Co-Responder Team, which he had worked with previously, and the clinician he spoke with in the hospital.

Although he had already talked at length with PACT about his struggles with mental health, he had to go through the explanatory process again with another clinician as part of the intake process.

He said the people he spoke with from both PACT and at AVH were helpful and understanding, but the process could have been streamlined by coordination among responding agencies.

“I know that all of these organizations have the best intent … We can have people doing triplicate, if not quintuple the work, all overlapping with each other,” he said.

Creating opportunities for collaboration and communication among organizations through projects such as MHAP is one way to foster better communication.

In addition to collecting data, MHAP conducts weekly case conferencing to examine how referrals are made and where gaps in the system lie.

Through this work, Maisch said they have identified a “doughnut hole” in the care of individuals who are using substances and who are also suicidal.

“There’s not a place in our community for them to go because they can’t go to jail; the only other custodial place for them to go is the hospital; but typically, when somebody’s pretty heavily under the influence, it’s very hard to assess for suicidality,” she said. “It’s kind of this weird little doughnut hole that’s living in our community where we don’t know where people go, and it puts them at even higher risk and more barriers for them to have to overcome to get the treatment or care that they need.”

Addressing the root causes of mental illness

Regardless of the availability of mental-health services, people will continue to struggle with mental illness until its root causes are addressed, according to Atchity. The social determinants of mental health include environmental and behavioral factors such as access to childcare, affordable housing, and sustainable wages, among other factors.

“We’re going to be a state in crisis unless there is more emphasis on the bigger picture of human health and well-being,” he said. “All of these different social determinants of health … are stressors on human experience, and that there’s very little adequate provision for (them) in our communities. Clinicians are not going to solve our mental health crisis.”

He suggested that focusing on addressing the youth mental-health crisis, which begins in the perinatal ecosystem, is a good starting point in order to raise a healthy population from the ground up. That includes introducing a system of support for children and families that ensures basic needs are met and increasing access to mental health in schools.

“That’s how you build a system of care, is by building a healthy population because then you don’t have a system of care that is trying to react to a population that’s in a state of health distress,” he said. “You can’t build a system of care for a population that’s in a state of health distress. That’s exactly what our situation is right now in the United States.”

According to him, the current state of elevated tension that pervades American society introduces additional stressors to youth.

The American Psychological Association found that the increasingly devastating effects of climate change are disproportionately impacting the mental health of youth — nearly half of survey respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 said the stress they feel about climate change affects their daily lives.

In addition, Atchity said the pronounced political divisiveness prevents a commitment to improving the mental health and well-being of American communities.

“We’ve got a perfect storm of conditions leading to mental-health distress that there is no single clinical solution for,” he said. “It is a complex set of things that has a lot more to do with human communities getting their acts together, and realizing that prioritizing human health and well-being should be number one on everybody’s list.”

Opioid Abatement Council selects OMNI Institute for data dashboard grant

The Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council has awarded a two-year contract, including $100,000 in grant funding, to OMNI Institute to establish a regional data dashboard.

OMNI Institute, a non-profit social science consultancy, will be tasked with fulfilling the third goal of the region’s two-year abatement plan, which is to increase access to data reflecting the opioid epidemic within Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Lake, and Summit counties.

The data dashboard, according to the council’s two-year plan, is intended to increase community awareness of the opioid epidemic and substance use disorders, encourage people to seek help for SUDs, inform the community about harm reduction services, and increase the potential for Region 5 to obtain funding.

“The reason that we wanted to focus funds on this data dashboard piece was because there’s really not one uniform source of information that is, to be honest, effective and appropriately representative of our region,” Eagle County Public Health and Environment Partnership Strategist Chelsea Carnoali said.

OMNI was selected among four applicants in the second round of requests for proposals due to their self-sufficiency, positive local references, and robust approach.

After the first round of RFPs, the council found that none of the proposals met their expectations, so they re-opened the application, according to Carnoali. In the second round of RFPs, the council put forth more specific expectations, including requirements for indicators and platform needs.

“Putting it back out there worked actually pretty smoothly,” Region 5 Council Co-Chair Jarid Rollins said.

While the Council acknowledged the strengths of the other candidates from the second round, OMNI was ultimately set apart by their plan to conduct the data collection and extraction independently. According to the proposal they submitted, they will begin by gathering data from all available public sources and then will work with data owners and other agencies to gather more information.

The request for proposals set forth the expectation that the dashboard include data pertaining to overdoses, naloxone distribution and administration, substance-use treatment numbers, opioid prescription rates, monthly medical visit data, substance-related bookings, cultural indicators, educational trainings, and probation drug test results.

The Council also requested that dashboard users have the ability to filter data by specific area such as county or zip code.

“When you get from Carbondale and then you go over to Parachute, there’s huge differences,” Carnoali said.

Having region-specific data available can be helpful when applying for grants, according to her. It can also reduce stigma surrounding opioid use by demonstrating the prevalence of the issue.

“There’s inaccurate, unfair portrayals of who uses opioids more, and (people think), ‘It doesn’t affect my community; well, it doesn’t affect our class,'” she said.

In addition to evaluating their level of experience with similar projects and strategies for collecting data, the council prioritized proposals that addressed plans for the equitable collection and presentation of data. According to the request for proposals, “successful programs will focus on serving culturally diverse and economically diverse communities.” Low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by geographic challenges, exacerbating barriers to accessing substance use services, according to the request for proposals. 

Beyond looking at demographics data in the diverse five-county region, it can be very difficult to collect accurate data due to the challenge of tracking overdoses and drug use. While it is possible to track the distribution of Narcan and other harm reduction resources, there is no way of tracking their use when a medical professional is not involved.

Carnoali emphasized that individuals using harm-reduction materials such as Narcan is a mark of effective distribution tactics — the goal is to reduce harm by providing people who are at risk of overdose with the resources to administer naloxone when necessary.

“The point (of distributing harm-reduction supplies) is making it accessible while removing the barrier of having to go to a government office or wherever a doctor, but we can track where and how we distribute, ideally,” she said.

In the past, OMNI has worked with county agencies within Region 5. Pitkin County Public Health Planning and Programs Manager Jenny Lyons and Carnoali both reported having positive experiences working with OMNI.

“The experience was a huge, huge win for when I was completing that scoring, and we were having those discussions, along with understanding and having some work with OMNI,” Carnoali said in a council meeting last week. “They’ve been very, very thorough and adaptive when they’ve been collecting data and creating this framework with us (in Eagle County).”

OMNI also has experience working with the Region 4 Opioid Abatement Council, covering Northeast Colorado, and with opioid abatement assessments in North Carolina and Virginia. In addition, they helped develop the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse’s Opioid Data Dashboard. 

Lyons and Garfield County Public Health Specialist Mason Hohstadt expressed some concern with OMNI’s plan to roll out the Spanish-language version of the dashboard after the English-language version of the dashboard.

While OMNI initially proposed publishing the dashboard in English before translating it into Spanish, Lyons said the timeline for the bilingual rollout may require additional consideration. One option she proposed was to have the initial publication of the dashboard be accessible only to internal partners, followed by edits, and then the simultaneous release of the dashboard in both English and Spanish to the general public.

The Council discussed specifying in the contract that a two- to four-week lag time for the Spanish edition would be appropriate.

“I don’t think we would make it publicly available until both versions were ready,” Hohstadt said.

Though the contract between OMNI and Eagle County — the fiscal agent for the region — has not yet been finalized, the contract implementation is expected to begin around the beginning of September.

Walk to Stop the Clot raises awareness for pulmonary embolism

When Donna Brovender’s daughter, Ali Senser, passed away from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 35, two days after giving birth, she was heartbroken.

“Devastated would be an understatement,” Brovender said.

Refusing to be paralyzed by the tragedy, she educated herself and others about the dangers of blood clots.

She learned of the National Blood Clot Alliance — an organization devoted to advancing the prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of blood clots — and reached out to get involved with their cause.

“I got with them and I said, ‘I need to raise awareness for this because I need to know as much as I can, and I think people need to know as much as they can,'” she said.

After her daughter died, Brovender herself had a pulmonary embolism. She began to feel excruciating pain in her leg and went to the emergency room.

“I told them, ‘Listen, I’m a lay person. I never spent a day of my life in medical school or residency. I am telling you, this is a (pulmonary embolism) or deep vein thrombosis,'” she said. 

Upon confirming her diagnosis with an ultrasound, the doctors began breaking up the clot, preventing further harm to her.

“I feel like in my own way, my daughter saved me because I would not have known all about blood clots like this,” she said. “This matters because if people know, then they’ll know the warning signs.”

Brovender worked with NBCA to organize a Walk to Stop the Clot in Aspen on Sunday in memory of her daughter, who visited Snowmass with her family from 1988 until her death in 2016. There is no fee for registration. She said the focus for the event is simply to raise awareness.

The walk will begin at the Jewish Community Center, with a stop at the Aspen Ambulance headquarters.

Dr. Caroline Mears, an internist with Aspen Valley Primary Care, and Gabe Muething, a paramedic and Chief of Emergency Medical Services at Aspen Ambulance District, will give a talk about blood clot risks, prevention, and treatment.

“The spotlight isn’t often on blood-clot risk, and knowledge on what to look for, knowing your risk level, etc., could mean the difference between life or death,” Aspen Valley Hospital Chief Growth and Marketing Officer Jennifer Slaughter said.

According to Mears, who recently had a pulmonary embolism success story involving one of her patients, most pulmonary embolisms arise from deep vein thromboses, resulting in 100,000 deaths per year in the United States.

“While they can be life-threatening, knowing more about pulmonary embolisms, risk factors, and how to mitigate those risks can go a long way in protecting yourself and loved ones,” she said. “Everyone should have access to this information, which I look forward to sharing with everyone on Sunday.”

Muething, who has experience in pre-hospital medical care and emergency services, will teach participants on how to recognize the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism. He will also explain treatment options and describe what happens when emergency workers respond to a patient with a pulmonary embolism.

Often, people are not aware that they have a pulmonary embolism, he said. They may call emergency services due to difficulty breathing or passing out. It can be difficult to diagnose a pulmonary embolism since the symptoms are vague.

“Unfortunately, what really causes the most harm in somebody with a pulmonary embolism is that they just write those symptoms off until it’s too late, and then those symptoms become very profound,” he said. “They end up having life-altering (consequences) or death due to not getting treatment early enough.”

The mortality rate for pulmonary embolism, if gone untreated, is 30%, Muething said. But if it is caught early, the mortality rate drops to 8 percent.

“It’s amazing how much we can do if we can get it early,” he said. “That’s really what we’re hoping to do with this walk, is to just increase awareness of pulmonary embolism and how it happens, and who’s most at risk. If you can get early treatment, we really do have a good system to be able to treat it and hopefully have a full recovery from it.”

Once someone is assessed for a blood clot, first responders can provide cardiovascular support by supplying additional oxygen, support for blood pressure, and general support for the body until they are able to remove the pulmonary embolism via surgery or medication.

“It does not discriminate,” Brovender said, referencing the NBCA’s statistic that 274 people die of a blood clot each day. “It’s not any socioeconomic group, it’s not gender, it’s not ethnicity — (it’s) everybody.”

If you go:

What: Walk to Stop the Clot

When: Sunday, July 23. Check-in at 9 a.m., walk at 10 a.m.

Where: JCC Aspen, 435 West Main Street

Registration: donate.stoptheclot.org/aspenwalk23

Opioid settlement funding finds way to high country, where need is great, officials say

Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child cites a high number of opioid overdoses in the region, though he can’t say how high because these are hard to track.

“We have an alarmingly high number of people either dying from it or having to be treated with Narcan to save their lives,” he said, leaning on his insights from serving on a Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council work group focused on reducing harm from the scourge.

High Rockies Harm Reduction’s founder and executive director, Maggie Seldeen, can back him up on this claim. She said the opioid prescription rate in Pitkin County is higher than average due to the high rate of injuries from outdoor recreation. She said getting opioids prescribed by the doctor is the primary pathway to an opioid addiction.

“The reality is that humans have used drugs for thousands of years, and if I use fentanyl that I buy off the street, what makes me different than somebody who uses fentanyl that they get from their doctor?” Seldeen said. “My resources and my likelihood to be arrested for my activity.”

Cocaine and alcohol — “the most insidious drug out there” — are also socially acceptable in Aspen culture, she said.

“Everyone assumes that these problems don’t exist here,” she said. “They’re actually worse here per capita because we have fewer resources.”

That will change, at least somewhat, as the Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council has selected High Rockies Harm Reduction and Effct.org as the recipients of the opioid settlement grant funding for harm-reduction services and an anti-stigma and education campaign.

A request for proposals for a regional substance use disorder data dashboard is still open and accepting applications for that $100,000 grant until July 21. Plans for the dashboard include maintaining a database with information from local health agencies, criminal justice and law enforcement entities, substance-use disorder treatment and recovery providers, and upcoming funding opportunities, according to the council’s two-year plan.

Region 5 Council Co-Chair Jarid Rollins said the council is still working out the timeline for the dispensation of grant funding.

“It’s the first year it’s been done,” he said. “So there are some growing pains and things like that, but we have some good leadership out of Eagle County.”

A grant of $100,000 will be awarded to High Rockies Harm Reduction this year and next year to provide harm reduction services to the five counties in Region 5, which includes Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Summit, and Lake counties.

The funding will allow High Rockies to continue the harm-reduction work they have been doing for the past three years — expanding harm reduction services, including syringe services and peer support — throughout the region, according to Seldeen. 

She was involved in some of the council’s early discussions about harm reduction, educating stakeholders on how she works with people who struggle with substance use disorders.

The council identified the three focus areas after months of meetings with stakeholders including county commissioners, representatives from district attorney’s offices, law enforcement, community treatment providers, and people in recovery who can speak to that experience, according to Rollins.

Effct.org, a Denver-based digital marketing agency, will receive $150,000 per year for the next two years to launch an education and anti-stigma campaign.

According to Effct.org co-founder Nick Brown, they plan to launch a data-driven digital media campaign on social media and with local media outlets focusing on reaching a broad base of people.

“As we put out the (request for proposals), that was something that was stressed in the language, as far as how are the folks that we contract with — the vendors — going to talk to everybody across the region, from hospitality workers to oil and gas workers to (agricultural) workers,” Rollins said.

Brown said they aim to connect people across the region with harm-reduction services, particularly people who commute between counties. In addition, they will place emphasis on addressing the diverse needs of the community, providing content in Spanish and English.

“This campaign in Region 5 is really focused on tackling that stigma and making it OK for people to come forward and get help, whether they want to break their addiction or reduce the harm of their addiction, with the hope of just building a stronger community and region,” he said.

Each grant contract from the Opioid Abatement Council is for a calendar year and may be renewed if the recipient is meeting the scope of the focus area. The council was only tasked with creating a two-year plan for now, but they will re-evaluate the plan afterward to determine what direction to move in throughout the full 18-year period.

“Essentially, we go back to the planning process and say, ‘OK, we did an anti-stigma campaign, data dashboard, and harm reduction the first two years. What is the next need that we want to address?'” Rollins said. “Is it more treatment focused, is it recovery housing, or do we feel like we made a really big impact on prevention and promotion of treatment and we want to continue to fund those bases?”

The dashboard will guide the opioid settlement spending over the next 18 years, as well as the funding and programming efforts for organizations and agencies aimed at serving people with substance use disorders, according to the two-year plan.

While there is not currently a database providing region-specific statistics on drug use, Seldeen said that nearly everyone can benefit from harm reduction resources.

“Our demographic is really the general public,” she said.

To maximize the impact of the grant funding, most of the municipalities in the region — aside from Garfield County, which is working on programming specifically for the county — pooled their funding to the greater Region 5 fund, according to Rollins. 

When determining the allocation of funding, the Colorado Opioid Abatement Council prioritized directing money to municipalities, counties, and regions with the belief that residents and providers in the area have better insight into how to best use the funds to save lives, he said.

“We felt we could be more effective by combining our efforts,” Child said.

Aspen Hope Center assumes mobile crisis contract for Pitkin County

People using the state’s mental health crisis response system from Aspen to Parachute will now be served by mobile crisis responders from the Aspen Hope Center. 

On July 1, the Hope Center took over the mobile-crisis contract from Mind Springs Health to provide crisis response for Pitkin County. The Hope Center has been providing 24/7 crisis response services to Garfield County and the Roaring Fork Valley side of Eagle County since 2019, and has been operating their own crisis services since 2010.

“We’ve been doing this for 13 years,” Aspen Hope Center Executive Director Michelle Muething said. “We’ve got crisis down pat.”

The center specializes in crisis response, which has allowed them to become experts in the field, according to her. As a community mental health center, Mind Springs encompasses a much broader range of mental health services rather than focusing only on crisis response.

“We’ve been asked to do this because, quite frankly, we’re the experts in crisis,” Muething said. “This is all we do.”

She said the Hope Center has helped several entities in the region set up crisis response systems, including San Miguel, Summit, Eagle, and Gunnison counties.

“We’re the specialty center,” she said. “As different counties all across the state are trying to learn and build mobile crisis — which, P.S., has no evidence-based standard; there’s no manual on best practice, it’s all so new — the state has looked to us as the ones that have done it the longest and really kind of perfected how we do this.”

Colorado is one of only a handful of states with a statewide crisis-response system, according to her. 

Dialing the Colorado crisis line (988) puts callers in contact with a crisis clinician or peer specialist who will speak with the caller over the phone. If the counselor on the phone determines that a face-to-face mobile crisis response is necessary, they will send the regional provider to the caller’s location.

When Hope Center clinicians respond to a crisis, there is no charge for the services. 

“If you’re sitting in Snowmass and you call the Colorado crisis line, and you can’t tell that person something that makes them feel you’re going to be safe, they’re going to loop us into that phone call and Colorado Crisis Services are going to send out Hope Center clinicians,” Muething said.

Colorado Crisis Services — the statewide behavioral health crisis response system — is split into seven service regions aligned with the state’s Medicaid regions, each governed by an administrative service organization. Rocky Mountain Health Plans is the service organization for the Western Slope. Within each service region, contracts with local providers ensure there is a mobile-crisis vendor for each county.

“Responsive, compassionate crisis service programs are critical to our members and the communities we are honored to serve,” Rocky Mountain Health Plans said in a statement. “Hope Center’s participation in the crisis service program, effective July 1, is the outcome of a collaborative process with Pitkin County leadership and community stakeholders to help ensure greater access to crisis services.”

The implementation of crisis hotlines and introduction of the nationwide 988 hotline last summer as an alternative to dialing 911 for mental health emergencies enables response to mental health crises by mental health professionals, freeing law enforcement from many of these cases.

“If there’s a mobile-crisis responder, you do not have law enforcement that has to stand on the scene for a long period of time and deal with issues that they’re not well-versed or trained in,” Muething said.

In addition, mobile-crisis response can help people experiencing a crisis avoid medical costs associated with being transported to the emergency room for assessment, which is more likely to occur if law enforcement officers respond to mental health crises, according to her.

Colorado law requires mobile-crisis responders to arrive on scene within an hour for urban areas and two hours for rural areas. However, the Hope Center has nine crisis clinicians spread throughout the region, enabling a much faster response time than other crisis centers, some of which have only one crisis clinician to cover four counties, according to her.

“The Hope Center was built on the premise that 15 minutes is an eternity for someone to wait for help; 15 minutes is an eternity for a law enforcement officer to stand with someone that they are not trained to interact with,” she said. “For us, two hours is ludicrous and 60 minutes, even, is not acceptable … Our goal is to respond as quickly as possible.”

Muething said the Hope Center clinicians are stationed across the region and are usually able to respond in 15 to 30 minutes. In a worst-case scenario where weather and call volume are both unfavorable, their maximum response time is one hour — still significantly faster than the required response window by Colorado law.

She said the Hope Center is also unique in that all of their clinicians are licensed or license-eligible as crisis clinicians. 

“We’re staffed well, we have good retention, and our crisis clinicians are specialists in the world of mobile crisis,” she said.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, you can call or text 988 for the suicide or crisis hotline.

High Rockies Harm Reduction wins grants to expand harm reduction services

High Rockies Harm Reduction won grants from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Harm Reduction Fund and the Colorado Opioid Abatement Council to expand harm reduction services over the next couple of years.

The organization will receive $100,000 per year for at least two years from the Opioid Abatement Council, with opportunities to renew the grant for an 18-year period of funding.

They will receive another $121,000 per year as a subcontractor under Summit County from the CDPHE for the next three years, beginning in August. Though the original CDPHE harm reduction fund was authorized in 2019, this grant is the result of the Fentanyl Accountability and Prevention Act.

The most recent fund allocates $6 million over three years to agencies across Colorado to reduce the harms associated with substance use, according to CDPHE Harm Reduction Grant Fund Manager Sam Bourdon. This year, Summit County requested $330,037 for the provision of harm reduction, outreach, education, and supplies across rural areas in the Western Slope.

The secure funding will allow HRHR to continue the harm-reduction work they have been doing for the past three years — expanding harm reduction services, including syringe services and peer support — throughout Pitkin, Eagle, Garfield, Summit, and Lake counties, according to HRHR Founder and Executive Director Maggie Seldeen. 

Though she said the funding is specifically for syringe services, the work encapsulates many services. HRHR will use the funding to support their work in distributing naloxone, fentanyl testing strips, and sterile use equipment; overdose prevention; education; and syringe disposal.

“Everyone could come into our space and find something for them, even if it’s just a friendly smile and someone to talk to you about issues that a lot of people aren’t really comfortable talking openly about, and a lot of folks don’t really have the chemical education,” Seldeen said.

According to Bourdon, approaching substance use from a harm reduction and public health standpoint is intended to avoid relying on the carceral system.

“Rather than coming from a more penalizing approach based on possession or distribution, it’s looking more at how to improve quality of life over the span of substance use, or substance use continuum, and also linking individuals to care, so they can have long-term, positive outcomes,” Bourdon said.

According to the two-year plan from the Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council, which covers the five counties, “these services are wildly underfunded and piece-meal at best.” Seldeen said the grant money will bring HRHR to the minimum amount that it costs to run the kind of rural harm reduction program she operates.

The grant funding is an overdue acknowledgement of the legitimacy and importance of the work HRHR has been doing in the area.

“It also really just shows the foundation that we created for this work and the reputation that I’ve created in rural Colorado over the past two years of building this business up,” she said. “Having these contracts, even if they were only for five dollars, just really gives us a lot of sustainability as a reputable program.”

Prior to the grants, HRHR has been funded by an annual grant from the Colorado Health Foundation, as well as by small municipal grants, merit grants, and community donations. However, she said insufficient funding has made it difficult to deliver consistent services.

“Not only does it give us that solid reputation, but also it gives us financial sustainability for at least the next three years to at least do the minimum work we’ve been doing,” she said. “It’s hard because it’s just me and I can’t be everywhere right now. … As we get more staff, more volunteers, we’ll be able to do more events.”

According to Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child, who serves on the Region 5 Opioid Abatement Council workgroup focused on harm reduction, HRHR plans to hire a second paid staff member in October.

Seldeen said HRHR’s plans for the future include rapid HIV and hepatitis testing, implementing advanced drug-checking technology, and expanding their peer-support network.

Peer support is a somewhat novel service for a harm-reduction organization, according to her. People seeking support can come to HRHR and speak openly about their struggles. 

“It’s often really just a sounding board and a safe space,” she said. “That’s one of the biggest things this work really does, is just provide a safe space for people to talk about their illegal activity and get the resources that they need to help them with that because it’s really hard to stop doing something when you can’t talk to your provider about what you’re doing.”

Child said Seldeen also plans to buy a used van to serve as a mobile office for the organization, providing a space for her to meet with clients.

“It’ll have people seeking the services feeling comfortable,” he said. “If she has this van that is her office and meeting space where she can meet one-on-one with people inside the van in a confidential manner, I think that will work really well.”

HRHR offers telehealth and in-person appointments to develop an individualized plan regarding the level and type of support that someone requires. In a peer-support capacity, the organization advocates for clients in courts, helps arrange and attends medical appointments with people, and connects them with Medicaid and higher education as needed.

Working with individuals to create a plan that works for them aligns with the CDPHE grant’s guiding philosophy of individual empowerment.

“Harm reduction in general recognizes the individual as a primary agent of change in their own lives and in their own substance use,” Bourdon said. “So it really relies on those person-first principles and recognizing that there are a number of intersecting experiences and identities that impact individuals’ ability to access resources to mitigate their own harm and also the impact to the amount of risk they may experience in general related to substance use.”

Seldeen’s passion for harm reduction comes from her personal experience with the detrimental impacts that unsafe drug use can have.

Having leadership who has personally experienced the effects of substance use is essential in order to have an informed perspective on what strategies can be most effective, according to Bourdon.

“This is something I’ve always been really passionate about and the data continues to show that we continue to have these issues,” Seldeen said. “The Roaring Fork Valley is lucky enough to have somebody super, super passionate enough to create a company. … There’s a real need for it. It’s an honor and a privilege to have been the one to do something about it.”

She grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley with parents who worked in the service industry — a culture known for its heavy drug use. Her mother struggled with addiction and mental-health issues and died from a heroin overdose when Seldeen was 15, at which time Seldeen was an injection-drug user herself, according to the HRHR website.

Throughout her life, she has lost many people close to her due to overdoses and seen several friends contract hepatitis C from using unsafe injection equipment.

“She’s been there, done that herself, she totally understands it,” Child said. “I think that’s why she’s been so effective working with people, because she totally understands where they are, where they’ve been, what they need to do to take care of themselves and improve their lives.”

Aspen Strong rebrands as HeadQuarters, offering same programming

HeadQuarters, formerly Aspen Strong, is rebranding with a focus on mental fitness, which HeadQuarters Executive Director Angilina Taylor defines as “having the skills and tools available to you, so that you have the resiliency to thrive when things get thrown at you in life.”

“Throughout life, we all face obstacles, and we all find ourselves in different positions,” she said. “Sometimes, if we don’t have the proper tools at our disposal, a situation can become a lot worse if we’re not properly prepared. … It’s really figuring out what those tools are that work for you and adapting them for your life and having that skill set, you know, recognizing things that trigger you, and then things that you can do … so that you don’t find yourself in a situation like that again.”

Despite the new name, she said the programming offered by HeadQuarters will remain the same. The name change came as a result of gradual shifts in the focus of the organization.

The organization started as an exclusively online resource with a provider directory and online toolkits. However, in recent years, it has expanded into the offline realm to offer community events and workshops.

Last year, it took over managing the Mental Health Fund, which was initially run by the Aspen Community Foundation.

“We were growing anyway, and evolving into what we are now,” Taylor said.

Next year, HeadQuarters is planning to launch a mental fitness coach program, according to her.

She said the name change is also aimed to clarify that the organization serves a broader area than just Aspen — they work with people all over the region between Aspen and Parachute.

HeadQuarters Executive Director Angilina Taylor signs the lease for the organization’s new office space in Basalt.
HeadQuarters/Courtesy Image

“We really wanted to be inclusive of all of the communities we serve,” she said. “Sometimes it was just like a bit of a disconnect; people didn’t really recognize that we provided a service for them, with having Aspen in the name, when we went downvalley. And we have larger, grander visions of like, how could this evolve into something that isn’t area specific? And how could we create this model for different communities in different areas?”

HeadQuarters’ new name is a reference to the four quarters of the brain, as well as their work with the four pillars of mental fitness, which are the social, emotional, physical, and financial aspects.

In practice, that involves promoting social responsibility through volunteerism, partnerships, and the provider directory; hosting workshops and presentations focused on emotional resilience; encouraging people to engage in physical activity to boost their mental wellbeing; and promoting financial literacy.

By addressing those key areas, Taylor said she hopes to prevent people from reaching crisis, reducing the strain on other mental-health organizations.

“We really believe that with prevention and early intervention programming within the valley, we will be removing some of the strain on the downstream systems of care,” she said.

As part of the rebranding process, HeadQuarters has considered who their target audience is.

Through relationships with local schools, therapists, and parents, they identified a focus on the youth community.

“We as a staff and board, really wanted to focus (on ages) 14 plus … knowing that there is a youth mental health crisis and knowing that the youth in our area are struggling,” Taylor said. 

The Latino community, too, struggles significantly with mental health, according to her — many of the Mental Health Fund applications come from Latino community members. To remove barriers to supporting this population, HeadQuarters has made its new website fully translatable into Spanish. As HeadQuarters continues to expand, she said they are trying to figure out how to implement more programming in Spanish and partner with more organizations within the Latino community.

In addition to the youth and Latino communities, she said the working class population is another group that HeadQuarters has focused their resources on, since they often have minimal employer benefits that cover mental-health needs.

One of the ways HeadQuarters can support specific groups is by developing workshops specifically intended to cater toward those demographics. The workshops are usually done with other local organizations.

“All of our workshops are in collaboration with others and really folding others into other organizations into our programming,” Taylor said.

In the spirit of collaboration, HeadQuarters’ new office space in Basalt will also house the Mental Fitness Collaborative, which is a co-working space for people in the wellness industry. 

They will be celebrating the changes with a community open house from 4:30-7:30 p.m. on Thursday at their new space, located at 23400 Two Rivers Road, Unit No. 46 in Basalt.