As Mind Springs loses state contract, Summit County officials hope for better crisis services
FRISCO — A recent court ruling is leading to rapidly approaching changes in how Summit County residents will receive crisis services for mental health.
Mind Springs Health, which has held a contract with the state since 2014 to provide behavioral crisis services to 10 counties including Summit, lost the contract after the state instituted new geographical and financial requirements.
An appeal to the new requirements was denied by district court judge Ross Buchanan. That cleared the way for a new administrative services organization contract that was awarded to Rocky Mountain Health Plans, which will be tasked with finding a provider network for Summit and 21 other counties starting July 1.
The move presented initial alarm as to what crisis services would be available in Summit in the short term. Mind Springs Health has an office in Frisco and is the only major behavioral health provider in town aside from the Summit Community Care Clinic. Rocky Mountain Health Plans has no established infrastructure in Summit.
Mind Springs previously promised to provide walk-in and emergency referrals for persons experiencing a mental health crisis at its yet-to-open Summit Safe Haven acute treatment unit in Frisco.
But without the contract from the state or funding for emergency services, walk-ins will not be accepted when the unit does open. Mind Springs expects the unit to be used by law enforcement and the hospital for emergency referrals.
In news releases, Mind Springs Health said it would stop providing all public-facing emergency services, including its local crisis hotline, which will forward calls to Colorado Crisis Services, and mobile crisis response for law enforcement and emergency services.
However, Mind Springs emphasized that its facilities are still operational and providing inpatient and outpatient services to active clients, which made up the majority of their business.
- Colorado Crisis Services: 844-493-8255 or text “talk” to 38255
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
- For immediate assistance or for life-threatening emergencies, call 911
The sudden change was opposed last summer by groups such as the Colorado Behavioral Health Council, which filed the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the state’s request for bids, argued that the changes were drastic and untenable, would spread funding too thin in rural areas across the Western Slope and reduce service quality.
But on Tuesday it became clear that, from the perspective of some Summit County officials, the move away from Mind Springs is a welcome one. Commissioner Thomas Davidson referred to a “long list of issues” with Mind Springs over the years.
“Over the last several years, Summit County government, along with a lot of other interests, have been frustrated with the inability of Mind Springs to deliver services,” Davidson said. “It’s no secret that Summit County government has been expressing our frustrations to the state office of behavioral health for years. We continue to have trust issues with Mind Springs and are looking forward to the decision made by the state to award crisis services to a different operator and better services for the community.”
Assistant county manager Sarah Vaine, who oversees the county public health department, listed some of the problems the county has had with Mind Springs over the years, including concerns related to lack of Spanish-speaking clinicians and lack of culturally responsive services, struggles with capacity and long wait times for new patients.
Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said that from the law enforcement side, Mind Springs had not been holding up its end of the deal when it came to mobile crisis response. That is when a mental health emergency call would see a Mind Springs clinician go to a person’s home and directly provide services. Funding for mobile crisis response was provided by the state in the form of Senate Bill 17-207, and FitzSimons had high hopes of implementing the program in Summit.
However, FitzSimons said, the very opposite had been going on with Mind Springs. Instead of sending someone out to respond to mental health emergencies, he said Mind Springs merely referred them to the emergency room for diagnosis — the exact place the Senate bill meant to avoid sending people experiencing mental health crises because of the expense and the risk of agitating or upsetting that person.
In fact, FitzSimons said he could not remember a single instance in which Mind Springs sent out someone on mobile crisis response to assist a person in the field. FitzSimons also cast unfavorable light on Mind Springs’ provision of behavioral services to jail inmates under a separate contract.
“They did not provide any of the services very well,” FitzSimons said. “We’ve tried tirelessly to work with Mind Springs to correct deficiencies, but it finally came to the point where the state chose not to fund them and chose a different path.”
Mind Springs Health CEO Sharon Raggio defended her organization in response to comments from Summit officials, saying that Mind Springs had tried diligently to work with the county on issues that arose and that she was disappointed with the outcome.
“Mind Springs and the county have been in conversation for over a year for some of these issues, and some issues we agreed to disagree while with others we partnered very well together,” Raggio said, citing implementation of new practices such as a “daily huddle” with law enforcement to assess ongoing issues. “It makes me sad, and I think we as Mind Springs have worked hard to communicate and be a good partner and will continue to do so.”
Camille Harding, director of community behavioral health for the state, said an announcement is forthcoming from Rocky Mountain Health Plans about provider network contract signings that will assuage fears of a lack of providers in Summit County.
In the meantime, people seeking help for a behavioral health crisis can call the state’s crisis line at 844-493-8255, and the provider at the other end will be able to send mobile crisis response units, which Harding said the state is trying to put more emphasis on over walk-in centers.
“One of the recommendations from the behavioral health crisis steering committee was that our mobile response needed to be more robust,” Harding said. “Instead of making people go to a facility, we are really promoting mobile response so that a team will come to where the person is.”
Davidson and FitzSimons said they were looking forward to a better relationship and service from Rocky Mountain Health Plans. FitzSimons also sought to reassure the community that there will be no interruption in crisis services with the transition.
“I am confident that the office of behavioral health and RMHP will have services up and running in Summit County by July 1,” FitzSimons said.
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