Pitkin commissioners kick in $50k to new psych hospital

Pitkin County commissioners last week decided to contribute $50,000 to a regional nonprofit’s efforts to expand the number of psychiatric hospital beds available on the Western Slope.

“I think it’s important to be leaders,” Commissioner Rachel Richards said. “I think we can afford it.”

Two weeks before, county board members listened to a presentation from Mind Springs Health officials detailing their efforts to expand the West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction.

The facility currently is the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City and offers just 32 beds, said Sharon Raggio, Mind Springs president and CEO. Those beds “are all full, all the time,” she said during an April 25 presentation, adding that officials meet every day to determine who to admit on the five-to-23 person waitlist.

In fact, psychiatric hospital beds are full throughout the entire state of Colorado, which in turn features a smaller number of beds than the national average, Raggio said.

That national average is 34 beds per 100,000 people, she said. Colorado’s average is 22 beds per 100,000 people, while the Western Slope offers just six beds per 100,000 people, Raggio said.

“The need is great,” she said.

So Mind Springs, which operates the West Springs Hospital, has embarked on a fundraising campaign to double the number of beds at the hospital from 32 to 64, which will include a 16-bed wing for juveniles, said Roger Sheffield, Mind Springs vice president for development.

The number of juveniles with psychiatric problems continues to increase, he said, noting that two teens committed suicide in Grand Junction in late April while a 12-year-old committed suicide in Carbondale in November.

The project is slated to cost $34 million, and Mind Springs officials would like to break ground on the new facility by late summer, Sheffield said. Mind Springs’ goal is to raise $17.75 million of the $34 million and finance the rest of it, Sheffield said.

As part of that effort, Sheffield and Raggio are visiting counties and municipalities to solicit donations for the expanded hospital. So far, Garfield County has contributed $50,000 and Eagle County has pledged $10,000, he said.

Other areas, including Mesa County, the city of Grand Junction, Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and Summit County, have not yet decided how much to contribute, Sheffield said. So far, Mind Springs has raised $10.4 million in contributions, he said.

Half the number of patients treated at West Springs Hospital come from Mesa County, followed by Montrose, Garfield, Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Routt counties, he said.

Commissioners last week discussed the amount they wanted to contribute during Tuesday’s regular work session and settled on the $50,000, though Mind Springs had asked for $100,000.

Commissioner Steve Child said he hoped that Pitkin County’s contribution would stimulate Eagle County commissioners to chip in more to the project.