Guest column: Aspen Hope Center needs to be apart of valley’s crisis solution

I attended the Pitkin County commissioners’ meeting Dec. 20 regarding the request for proposals process to consolidate agencies to streamline crisis management in the valley. There is unified acknowledgement that this valley has an elevated percentage of people with crisis and or suicide situations.

The first responders, who usually are the police/sheriff/hospital personnel, are unsure of the best way to respond and are overwhelmed. Out of this frustration grew an initiative to “streamline” response to make it more beneficial for the citizens of this county and for the professionals who confront these dire situations. This is born out of a good desire and motive.

There are major flaws with this well-intentioned plan.

Depression and mental maladies are not neat and tidy and don’t necessarily respond favorably to a bureaucratic formula. It’s not the same as a broken bone or surgical procedure. The complexity of mental anguish is dark, murky, often masked and has many unseen roots.

Trying to make this problem better by creating a paper plan is calming the responders more than serving those in crisis. A person in crisis can’t be helped by someone with whom they don’t feel safe. The Aspen Hope Center is specifically trained to deal with crisis.

The team members at the Aspen Hope Center truly have compassionate hearts and a special skill set, which leads to their immense success. No other organization in the valley has this kind of expertise. Even with these special qualities, the “neat” outcome may not be achieved.

We must understand that each person’s destiny is unique and beyond any of us to truly control. Yet striving to help is the goal, and is best if the intention is surrendered to something greater than most can grasp. It is a true miracle when this transpires.

The proposed solution was to take various organizations in the valley that offer mental health support and put them in a competitive bidding situation much like bidding on construction of a home. By this very nature it has reduced this complex issue to agencies making it a matter of numbers, budget and unproven promises. I was most disheartened because the one agency with a proven track record — far better than any of the agencies who “won” the bid — is now in a position to lose privileges with the hospital, police and sheriff’s agencies.

The Aspen Hope Center chose not to enter the bid because they were being asked to give up the very things that make them the best, most efficient, most successful and loved crisis-management institution in this valley. It is one of three agencies that provide unparalleled services in this county. It is absolutely not against the county’s initiative to combine agencies. Its choice to remain independent was based solely on the commitment to keep their autonomy so they could continue to provide this community with the best crisis management available. Had they agreed to the terms of the bidding process they would have had to agree to the following:

1. The Hope Center being absorbed as the Mind Springs Health arm of crisis, meaning giving up everything and becoming them and doing crisis under them by their rules, requirements, regulations, etc.

Subcontracting with Mind Springs Health, meaning following their contract obligations, rules and regulations for crisis, documenting in their system and being supervised by their staff.

Each continuing to do what they do now, only with a liaison between them.

Do nothing.

The Aspen Hope Center’s decision to remain independent was to maintain their practices intact. It would love to continue to cooperate and work along with other mental health organizations in the valley as it always has.

Its choice was received negatively by the people who were designing this initiative and some of the county commissioners and it was being dismissed for keeping true to its mission. This was not at all at the heart of Aspen Hope Center’s decision and it was not aware that by choosing to continue as a private entity that it would lose the very privileges with the hospital and law enforcement agencies that it has worked with so closely in the past. This is not only unfair but an enormous loss for those in need in this valley.

Every person who showed up and spoke at this meeting including myself (the room was packed) shared how invaluable the Aspen Hope Center was in their most heart wrenching situations. There also were stories of how the agencies who won the bids failed to meet crisis needs miserably. No one in the public comment process spoke for the initiative or the agencies who “won the bid.”

I walked away from the meeting feeling that public comment was just a formality but not taken to heart, much like the formula being presented on paper with unproven promises. I also saw that the level of communication was reduced to blaming Aspen Hope Center for withdrawing from the bid rather than acknowledging its commitment to continue to serve this community and continue to cooperate with all organizations as it has always done so well.

It is my hope that they pause this process and include Aspen Hope Center in a solution that will be beneficial to all.

Candice Claire Oksenhorn was married to former Aspen Times arts and entertainment editor Stewart Oksenhorn, who died by suicide in 2014. She continues to raise their daughter, Olivia.