Colorado’s marijuana tax revenue funding two new Western Slope mental health facilities
August 23, 2017
Colorado's Office of Behavioral Health announced this week that Frisco and Montrose will both receive funding for new mental health facilities serving the Western Slope.
A senate bill signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in May set aside millions in marijuana tax dollars for upgrades to Colorado's mental health system and to help curtail the use of jails to house those in crisis who have not been charged with a crime. The deficiency in rural facilities was specifically targeted in the bill, which set aside nearly $2 million over two years to expand services.
All of that money was initially earmarked for an eight-bed crisis-stabilization unit and its operation in Montrose, but through maneuvering and negotiations Summit County will now receive half that bankroll. By as early as next spring, Frisco's Medical Office Building will be the site of a four-to-six-bed walk-in crisis unit, and Montrose will build a four-bed unit of its own at a location already under construction.
"It's been a long time coming," said Sarah Vaine, assistant county manager in Summit. "There's a broad continuum of care and a lot of services needed. I don't know that there's a community across the country that has every element of that continuum in place, but any of the steps of care that we get here, the more the better."
Mind Springs Health already oversees a detox and substance-abuse clinic in the same Frisco medical campus building. However, the publicly funded mental health network held out hope that it would receive funding for an additional crisis center. Through persistence and some good fortune, that prospect now becomes a reality.
But it still came very close to never happening. It required what Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons called "an eleventh-hour Hail Mary" to eventually cement the agreement.
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The new law explicitly targets ending mental health holds in county jails. However, without appropriate alternatives, Summit experienced a sharp escalation of such incidents over the past three years. To justify giving Summit half of the annual funding, the Office of Behavioral Health asked FitzSimons to convince the other Western Slope sheriffs of the hybrid plan.
"The sell was honestly our sheer numbers," FitzSimons said of the spike in the area's behavioral-health lockups. "And the sheriffs agreed we are on the eastern boundary of our region, so we do have a long distance to travel for people with mental health issues. Those things are undeniable."
The crisis units offer a place for a patient to take a time out and receive support during a mental health episode, but not medication or other therapies provided at a psychiatric hospital like West Springs in Grand Junction.
"It's just one more piece," said Vaine of the crisis unit. "When you have so many gaps, it's hard to know what is the next step, but this money became available and it's certainly going to go to good use. Every bed that's full is one person that's gotten a higher level (of care) that's hopefully avoiding getting themselves into any kind of self-harm or criminal situation.
"Those beds will absolutely go to good use, and then that'll just give us one more perspective on what's missing and how we can do better for our community," she added. "The county is very supportive of growing the continuum of care for behavioral health in Summit County."
The build out of under-used space at the medical building, as well as retrofitting portions of the detox center, become the next challenge this winter. The county believes meeting state codes for crisis units will not be a large barrier to completing the project, and Mind Springs can't wait to begin providing services to patients in the new specialty setting.
"I really believe that we will use this in ways that we haven't even considered yet to benefit this community," said Dr. Jules Rosen, chief medical officer for Mind Springs. "And it's going to have an impact, because … we see people in crisis and we've been trying so hard to improve the options. It's a lot of work, but this is just a real positive and I'm delighted."