Gov. Jared Polis visits Silverthorne to learn about SMART team, announce 2022 reinsurance rates
The visit touched on various work at the state related to mental health and health insurance
It’s not very often Gov. Jared Polis makes the trek from Denver to Summit County. The last time Polis visited the community was in June, when he signed a pair of bills meant to expand mental health resources for community members and peace officers.
Polis was in Silverthorne again Wednesday, Oct. 20, to learn more about the Summit County Sheriff Office’s Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team — otherwise known as the SMART team — and to announce reinsurance rates for 2022.
The first of two stops in Silverthorne started with discussing the county’s SMART team on the patio of the Silverthorne Performing Arts Center. The Summit County Sheriff Office’s SMART team isn’t the first of its kind in terms of co-responder programs — Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons noted that there are few in the state — but what makes Summit County’s program different is that it’s one of the first to be launched through the sheriff’s department.
In 2019, Polis “directed the Colorado Department of Human Services to spearhead Colorado’s Behavioral Health Task Force” which is meant “to evaluate and set the road map to improve the current behavioral health system in the state,” according to the Colorado Department of Human Services’ website. As the task force hits the ground running, Polis visited Summit County to learn about how its unique system was filling an expansive need in the community.
FitzSimons explained to Polis that the program was implemented because of Summit County’s high suicide rate and that it takes the partnership of many nonprofit partners and local mental health personnel to work successfully. Polis proceeded to ask questions about the program, such as what kind of training the team needed and what kind of metrics are being used to determine whether it’s successful.
Polis also asked community leaders — including FitzSimons, Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue, Building Hope Summit County Mental Health Program Coordinator Ravi Jaishankar and more — how they could see a similar program working in larger areas such as Denver. To that, FitzSimons said he didn’t think a statewide co-responder model would work.
“It really has to be community driven, and it has to be community specific,” FitzSimons said. “The model we have here (is) so successful here in Summit County. I don’t know that it’ll work in Eagle County. I don’t know that it’ll work in Park County. I don’t know that it’ll work in Grand County, because their communities will have and do have different needs. Ours was so specific to our community.”
Pogue noted that Summit County’s framework has also been successful because community leaders reinvented the structure for how mental health crisis calls were typically handled.
“If you take anything away from Summit County’s story, (know that) we became successful when we took a step back from the system that we’d been given, and we said, ‘No, we’re going to fund this, and we’re going to do this differently,’” Pogue said. “We did. We were very deliberate about creating a continuum. Paying for therapy is part of the continuum. SMART is part of that continuum.”
FitzSimons and Pogue noted that sustainable funding is required for programs like the SMART team, and both voiced a desire for Polis and state departments to offer different avenues that make it easier to keep these programs ongoing.
In general, Polis said it was helpful speaking with Summit County officials as the state continues to overhaul its system of behavioral health care.
“We are excited to look at how we as a state can encourage that round of discussion — it’s important — and really support models that work in different areas of the state,” Polis said.
Making health care accessible
Once Polis wrapped up conversations about the SMART team, he headed across the street to the Family & Intercultural Resource Center to announce that the state’s reinsurance program will save Coloradans an average of 24% and those living on the Western Slope about 37% in 2022.
These rates are for individual plans, meaning those who do not get their insurance from an employer, and for small group plans, meaning small employers with two to 100 employees, according a news release.
“I think this year, we’ve all realized more than ever how important health care is — not to have to worry about going bankrupt if you get the flu, if you get COVID, if you get cancer,” Polis said. “That’s an important peace of mind that every Colorado family deserves and every Summit County family deserves. This doesn’t get us all the way there, but it provides a lot of relief to a lot of people who can afford health care because of the bipartisan reinsurance package led by Rep. (Julie) McCluskie.”
McCluskie, who represents Summit County, was also at the announcement and commented on how glad she was that the reinsurance legislation was passed in 2019 and is directly impacting Summit County and other mountain communities.
“As I look out at this audience and think of the journey that we all began years ago when we started screaming about the health care costs here in Summit County, I am so proud that reinsurance is one piece of that remedy, one part of the solution in making health care more affordable for families,” she said.
Open enrollment for individual plans begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 15, 2022. Nissa Erickson, development director for the resource center, noted that her organization provides assistance to community members who need help in selecting a plan. For more information, visit SummitFIRC.org.
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