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Summit Board of County Commissioners shows preliminary support for mental health priorities

County has over $2 million to spend on mental, behavioral health services

Jennifer McAtamney, executive director of Building Hope Summit County, discusses mental health care in Summit County on Sept. 17, 2019. County officials are taking steps to make access to mental health services such as Building Hope easier.
Photo by Liz Copan / Summit Daily archives

For years, Summit County’s leaders have discussed strategies and solutions to the community’s lack of resources for behavioral and mental health, and last week, county officials continued taking steps to make access to services easier.

At the Summit Board of County Commissioners’ work session meeting on Tuesday, July 20, Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine presented the Strong Future committee’s nine priorities regarding where it thinks there is the most critical need in the community.

Voters passed a ballot initiative that included five separate funding buckets in 2018, including early care and education, zero waste management, forest fire mitigation, capital improvements and support for mental health improvements. According to a memo sent to the board, the mental health portion of this funding will accrue $2 million annually for 10 years.



Some of this funding will be allocated to Building Hope Summit County, but the rest of the funds will be spent on “high need areas.” These areas were to be identified by a citizen advisory Strong Future committee. Due to the pandemic, these recommendations were delayed and only presented this past week.

Pogue noted that the measure was part of a broader effort launched by the county and its partners to provide some kind of overnight care to those who were experiencing a crisis.



“This conversation actually goes back years,” Pogue said. “… Ultimately, the goal here is to keep folks with a behavioral health crisis out of the emergency room (and out of the criminal justice system). That’s really the big picture goal. Going back probably five years, we started talking as a community about how we would do that.”

According to the memo, there is currently over $2 million in the fund that is ready to be spent.

Some of the priorities outlined by the committee included providing financial support for Building Hope’s scholarship program, providing funding for reserved therapy slots for those in crisis, and offering professional development and scholarships for a bilingual and bicultural therapist and specialist. All of the priorities laid out by Vaine were given preliminary support by the board, but Pogue noted that some of these strategies still needed to be tweaked before officially moving forward.

One of the largest — and potentially most impactful — measures with preliminary support included exploring a legal agreement with Front Range Clinic and funding for a healing hub startup.

The clinic operates facilities across the state and offers a whole host of services that can be customized to fit a particular community’s needs.

“(Front Range Clinic) really seems to care deeply about their patients,” Vaine said. “They are very interested in Summit County. They want to put down some roots here. And they have a wraparound approach that really seems to look at the whole patient (and) their needs.”

Some of the services that the facility might offer include an intensive case manager who works with individuals who are considered severely and persistently mentally ill, as well as group services, peer support, drop-in services and intensive outpatient therapy. Vaine noted that Front Range Clinic would also connect patients to additional services if needed.

Vaine said that within this space, other partners from existing organizations would also staff the facility, including individual therapists and a mental health navigator from the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. The idea is that the facility would likely be housed in the Medical Office Building.

Moving forward, Vaine will work with the Strong Futures committee and representatives from the Front Range Clinic to iron out an agreement, which she said she’s hopeful will happen by late summer or early fall.

The Strong Futures fund has also supported other initiatives in the county, including Summit County Sheriff’s Office’s SMART team, Building Hope and the mental health navigation tool at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center.

“We’re grateful that the residents of Summit County value behavioral healthcare and just made, what I think, is a great decision in terms of creating a local funding stream,” Pogue said. “This system, nationally, is incredibly underfunded. Then you get to Colorado and it’s even worse than in most of the country. For communities — particularly communities like ours — to really make sure folks can have access to a high quality behavioral health system, you have to have that additional element of local funding.”

Though Summit County is making strides in its mental health agenda, Vaine noted that there is still room to keep expanding and growing to make accessing services easier.

“We just have so much work to do,” Vaine said. “There’s so much need. This isn’t mission accomplished. It’s just one more step in trying to build a robust and healthy continuum of care so that anyone who has a need has a place to go and feels comfortable there and gets support. But we have a lot of work to do.”

Provide financial support for a healing hub startupProvide funding for reserved therapy slots for individuals in crisisProvide direct financial support for Building Hope Summit County’s scholarship programProvide start up financial support to Front Range Clinic to implement an intensive outpatient program and medication managementSupper recovery resources supplemental fundingHold back a portion of the funding for future mental health programmingLaunch a specific initiative that supports equity services for vulnerable populationsOffer substance abuse and monitoring and pretrial servicesOffer professional development and scholarships for a bilingual and bicultural therapist and specialist

 


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