Potential Frisco mental-health crisis unit creates regional uncertainty
July 12, 2017
The state's Office of Behavioral Health is closing in on the location of a new short-term mental health facility on the Western Slope and the medical campus in Frisco is in the final running.
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 17-207 into law in mid-May following its passage in the General Assembly. The law grants just over $7 million in marijuana tax dollars for the mental health branch of the Colorado Department of Human Services to spend on shoring up Colorado's growing behavioral health challenges.
The law also ended the use of jails and other places of confinement intended for those charged or convicted of a crime as appropriate for those in need of an emergency mental health hold. To assist with ensuring law enforcement can meet that statutory demand, portions of that money is to be used to create one of these short-term treatment centers — officially termed a crisis-stabilization unit — in an underserved community.
The legislation and commitment of funds to this cause was the product of a mental health task force initiated by the governor in 2016 to determine what the state's real needs were regarding filling gaps in the existing mental health system. That 30-member group met in August and submitted eight recommendations at the end of the year, including advocating for each region of the state to have adequate facilities.
““I’m relying 100 percent on the sheriffs of the Western Slope that this will address the problem.”Nancy VanDeMarkDirector of the state Office of Behavioral Health
But how that was defined, it turns out, meant different things to different people, and has created tensions between the county and state, and Mind Springs Health, the area's primary mental health organization. And it's raised questions about how Frisco became a front-runner for the new eight-bed stopgap clinic on the Western Slope.
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"I don't know how it ended up in that place, to be honest with you," said Nancy VanDeMark, director of the Office of Behavioral Health, and member of the task force. "I don't have any reason to believe that there isn't a need in Summit County and don't dispute it, but this money was appropriated for a specific purpose, and having sat there for a fairly substantial time with the stakeholders in that group it's clear to me that it was to address the issues of the far Western Slope."
That aim is why Montrose, in southwestern Colorado, is the other potential site for the crisis stabilization unit. Because of the initial word that Frisco could be the landing destination, however, VanDeMark and staff has been reviewing an application to fund two smaller facilities, between four and six beds each, that hold patients who volunteer and are non-aggressive or flight risks for three days, and no more than five days.
Sharon Raggio, Mind Springs CEO and also a member of the task force, recalls another conversation in January 2015 when VanDeMark's predecessor visited the county to review if Frisco would be a possible destination for a future short-term unit. With no money at that time, no commitments were made, but three years later Raggio held onto hope the new grant source could fulfill the wish.
"Good, bad, right or wrong, the task force did not have any specific county in its recommendations for the (crisis stabilization unit)," said Raggio. "The money is really for communities where people are being held in jails, and Sheriff (Jaime) FitzSimons has indicated that happens in Summit County, and therefore it met the more narrowly focused intention of the funding."
Part of the issue also stems from uncertainty throughout the community whether patients in need of mental health care are required by regional assignments to drive about three hours to West Springs Hospital, Mind Springs' psychiatric facility in Grand Junction, or may instead choose to go to the Front Range. People can in fact go to their preferred destination — even if it's neither — but that confusion had the Office of Behavioral Health questioning why Summit felt it represents an underserved population.
Despite the crossed wires of communication, Summit stayed in the running after FitzSimons threw his weight behind the Frisco-based option in June and spoke by conference call with the other sheriffs from the Western Slope to garner their support. Lacking consistent statistics to justify which region would benefit most from the facility, that effort was critical in pushing the ball forward for the application from Mind Springs' parent organization. A final decision is due in the next seven-to-10 days.
"I'm relying 100 percent on the sheriffs of the Western Slope that this will address the problem — that these are the highest priorities for that problem," said VanDeMark. "No data is available to my knowledge that can provide us the number of people held in jails who have committed no crime, so we have to rely on them on what will help them solve the problem."
Should Mind Springs receive the initial state dollars to help reconfigure an existing detox and substance-abuse clinic it operates out of the Medical Office Building next to St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, the organization is confident a four-to-six-bed crisis unit would go a long way in meeting regional need.
"The idea of having two smaller ones would better serve more communities than one large one, especially without a needs assessment showing that they need eight beds in Montrose," said Dr. Jules Rosen, Mind Springs' chief medical officer who is based out of Summit. "This CSU is so important to all of us. This is just a great thing for our community and it would change so much and I hope we can get it."
A number of other items, including meeting requirements on space and build-out, would still need to happen if Frisco gets the nod as part of the two-year grant cycle. Getting state approval is the first major hurdle though, and then the county and Mind Springs can really get potential negotiations underway, if a deal can eventually be brokered at all.
"There's always details to work out," said Raggio. "But I think there's a groundswell of community will."