Mental health clinic for Colorado could land in Frisco with new state funds

Kevin Fixler
Mind Springs Health employees meet inside the organization's current mental health and substance-abuse space in the Medical Office Building in Frisco on Wednesday. From left to right: Emergency clinicians Gabe Lynch and Trevor Baringer, and administrative assistant Dennese Brereton.
Hugh Carey / Summit Daily staff photographer |

If the stars align, a new mental health crisis center could open in Summit County as early as the end of this year. However, the high costs of real estate here could divert the project to a neighboring county.

The passage of Senate Bill 17-207 in the state Legislature earlier this week put some economic heft behind the statewide movement to address growing mental health needs. Now, with Gov. John Hickenlooper’s signature, $7 million in marijuana tax dollars will go toward the effort, starting with the 2017-18 fiscal year. Approximately $900,000 of that has been carved out to build the eight-bed stabilization unit that would serve communities on the Western Slope.

Where it will ultimately end up is still being determined, but the state’s Office of Behavioral Health identified Frisco two years ago as an ideal location given its proximity to both the Interstate 70 corridor and St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. Determining the proper space in the pricey community is the next challenge, but, along with future clinic operator Mind Springs Health, county staff is already working to find a suitable location.

“Oh my gosh, it’s an exciting opportunity,” said Sharon Raggio, Mind Springs president and CEO. “We have such a shortage of psychiatric beds on the Western Slope and this adds additional capacity, and Mind Springs is certainly more than happy and willing to partner with the Summit County community and its leadership to try to find a way to make space.”

Mind Springs already has a presence in Frisco, offering a detox and substance-abuse clinic out of the Medical Office Building adjacent to St. Anthony hospital. The treatment services organization, which provides care for a 10-county area in Colorado in addition to parts of Utah and Wyoming, also operates the 32-bed West Springs psychiatric hospital in Grand Junction. An expansion to double occupancy there is also planned for later this year.

Crisis stabilization units are unlocked care facilities for those who require a lower level of treatment and observation. These short-term clinics are geared toward three-day stays, and provide care for no more than five. More acute cases, or those who are either highly agitated or flight risks, would still be taken to the psychiatric hospital.

“This is greatly needed,” added Raggio. “It is intended to be an option for anyone in the region, not only to serve residents of Summit. The idea is keeping people out of emergency rooms and out of having to be hospitalized.”

The approved bill also emphasizes placing individuals who are put on emergency mental health hold under the proper care, rather than in a jail or correctional facility if they’ve not been charged with a crime as well. But with the dearth of available beds throughout Colorado, that’s been the practice within Summit and other mountain communities if the local medical clinics are unable to house someone. The proposed law also spells out the process for getting someone in crisis the right support.

“Certainly we see the value of having this in Summit County, because we have a number of behavioral health issues within the community that end up taxing other resources,” said county manager Scott Vargo. “People end up in jail, or waiting in the emergency room for hours or days when it’s not the best location for them. Having some resource and extra bed space to alleviate some of those issues would be welcomed.”

Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons has consistently drawn attention to the unfortunate rise of people with mental health issues being forced into the Summit County Jail for lack of other options. He has potential concerns, however, that Frisco acting as the regional hub for those in crisis could lead to unintended consequences for the county.

“Since it’s regional, there will be people coming in from everywhere who then get released in our community,” FitzSimons said during a public meeting Tuesday.

Even with funding to provide the new clinic on the way soon, officials acknowledge there are still many details to be worked out before it’s a done deal. The Office of Behavioral Health still has to review all of the specs and make the financial award to Mind Springs to begin considering its setting.

On top of that, where exactly the crisis center will go if Summit County and Frisco are ultimately selected poses its own set of challenges. At this time, the Medical Office Building does not have room for a clinic that could necessitate as many as 10,000-square-feet for eight beds and a group meeting room.

County staff, with several community stakeholders and Mind Springs, previously walked the building to pinpoint spaces that are under-used to see if a site can be modified to work, or if a patchwork of spaces could fulfill the need, at least temporarily, with maybe four to five beds. The construction of another medical office building is already included in a County Commons master plan, but that remains years away, and the county government does not have the money to initiate that process any sooner. Therefore, the crisis unit could instead wind up in a neighboring county, perhaps Grand, Lake or Park.

“Anything is better than nothing,” County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said at the Tuesday meeting, concerning the idea of initially opening a clinic with fewer than eight beds. “But there are just so many details to work out, and as much as we are interested in putting in services, if I was Colorado and I had that money I wouldn’t put it in a location where the cost of everything is higher.”

Over the next few months, Mind Springs will work closely with the state and county to resolve where the stabilization unit eventually lands. From there, it’s possible it could begin meeting the mountain region’s mental health needs by the end of 2017.

“This is not a panacea, where all bed shortage problems are solved,” said Raggio. “We’re still in the space planning process, but the good news is there are options and the community certainly has a vision, and together we will to try to find solutions. We have the core competence to do this and are thrilled to partner with Summit County.”

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