Colorado’s first lady comes to town |

Colorado’s first lady comes to town

Charles AgarAspen, CO Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

ASPEN Jeannie Ritter, the wife of Gov. Bill Ritter, was at the Hotel Jerome on Thursday for the 2007 Mental Health Convocation.Planners hope the gatherings will become an annual, if not quarterly, event sponsored by the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation”I’m just here to listen,” Jeannie Ritter told a gathering of some 40 mental health professionals, calling on the group to inform her of local issues she can carry to a wider audience.”Send me forth with a mission.”In a state ranking 49th in mental-health funding, Ritter chose the issue as her initiative, she said.

“There’s probably a crisis when you’re 49th in the nation,” Ritter said, adding that it is her goal to convince legislators that preventative programs save state tax dollars.”We can build the cost-effective argument,” Ritter said,But the governor’s wife is not pressing for legislation nor bending the ear of the state’s head man yet; right now it’s a matter of gathering information and gaining clout statewide, she said.And Ritter stressed that grassroots change is as effective as making new laws.Now on her fifth statewide information-gathering tour – what she called a “big learning curve” for someone with no background in mental health – Ritter said she has sat in on everything from a bipolar women’s group to public forums with clinicians, law enforcement officials and members of social services agencies.”Everyone’s coming to the table because people are starting to get it,” Ritter said, adding that she’s hearing a recurring theme of collaboration among various agencies and groups.

Ritter stressed the importance of preventative mental-health care and plugged the cost-effectiveness of helping people before a mental-health or substance-abuse situation becomes a costly matter for the courts or an inpatient facility.Taking the pulse of the valleyDr. Robert Freedman, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, addressed the group on current topics in mental health, then participants broke into small groups to discuss his talk and other issues affecting Roaring Fork Valley residents.And, area mental health providers had a chance to sound off on concerns such as a stigma stopping people from getting help, undocumented immigrants seeking treatment, struggles with insurance reimbursements, the cost of operating a business here, the lack of transitional housing and the lack of interdependency.Ritter said she was all ears.

“When we promote mental health, we are impacting every segment of our communities,” she said.She quoted Freedman, who had said, “It is no longer possible to treat mental illness outside the body.””You are the body,” Ritter said. “You can’t do your job not connected to each other.”She urged cooperation among agencies and said, “The timing is right.”Kris Marsh, executive director of the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, called the event a success. And, responding to feedback from the professionals, Marsh said her staff will compile a directory of participants, whom she hopes will meet quarterly.Charles Agar’s e-mail address is