Summit County commissioners take initial steps to cut ties with Mind Springs Health

The commissioners held an emotional meeting with Mind Springs leadership Tuesday, March 29, admonishing the provider for failing to serve the Summit County community

The Summit County commissioners, like Tamara Pogue, are hoping to cut ties with Mind Springs Health as frustrations over quality of care mount.
RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

The Summit County commissioners are taking steps to cut ties with Mind Springs Health as community members continue to struggle with accessing care from the mental health provider.

The commissioners held an emotional meeting with Mind Springs representatives and other behavioral health experts Tuesday, March 29. They described a dire situation in which people in crisis aren’t receiving basic support.

“I can’t in good conscience continue to allow what’s happening in Summit County right now to continue,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said.

The commissioners ultimately broached the possibility of the county cutting ties with the provider all together. Mind Springs is the primary mental health provider for Medicaid users in Summit County. It receives funding from the state government for each county it services, including Summit, Eagle, Garfield, Grand, Jackson, Mesa, Moffat, Pitkin, Rio Blanco and Routt counties.

The commissioners would like to see Summit County’s portion of the funds reinvested back to the county government or another health care provider.

It remains unclear how much money Mind Springs is receiving from the state government. The health provider spent over $2 million of its $30.9 million budget providing services to Summit County clients in 2021, according to Mind Springs budget documents.

Tuesday’s meeting wasn’t the first time the commissioners and other county leaders like Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons have raised concerns about Mind Springs’ effectiveness as a mental health care provider. A Colorado News Collaborative investigation from December reported on how the behavioral health center fails to serve many of its clientele.

Jackie Hartwell’s son, Eric Hartwell, was one of those clients. Jackie Hartwell told her son’s story during the Tuesday meeting, recounting how he started to struggle with his mental health while living in Summit County in 2020.

Eric Hartwell was feeling extreme anxiety at the time because of the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jackie Hartwell said. One day in June 2020, Eric Hartwell’s girlfriend at the time called the Sheriff’s Office, worried that he was in a crisis state of mind.

Eric Hartwell was assigned a case manager after meeting with a member of the sheriff’s department’s Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team. He then reached out to Mind Springs to make an appointment.

“The first question we were asked was, ‘Does he have health insurance?’ The answer was yes, but we didn’t have the information,” Jackie Hartwell said at the meeting. “His employer had never provided him with that information. The woman would not go any further with us, told us to call back when we had the information.”

Jackie Hartwell spent the next few days maneuvering through a “benefits nightmare.” But even when she had the information she needed, she said she struggled to get help from Mind Springs. On June 9, 2020, Eric Hartwell’s case manager was finally able to schedule an appointment at Mind Springs, but Jackie Hartwell didn’t know any of the details.

Eric Hartwell never made it to that appointment. On June 10, 2020, he died by suicide.

“As a parent, I have to live with this for the rest of my life – the what ifs, the guilt,” Jackie Hartwell said. “If that (Mind Springs employee) had been truthful and said, ‘We can’t help you right now,’ I would have gotten on a plane and gotten out there to do something.”

The Hartwells’ story isn’t unique. County officials said they have countless examples of community members never reaching anyone through Mind Springs’ phone system, struggling to access Spanish-language resources and feeling jaded as a whole.

In the months following the Colorado News Collaborative investigation, Mind Springs’ former CEO and President Sharon Raggio resigned. Her replacement, interim CEO Doug Pattison, said Mind Springs is working to solve the many issues highlighted in the investigations.

Pattison said the organization is restructuring its executive leadership, hoping to solve operational issues that have led to people struggling to access care from Mind Springs. The company is also working to reorganize its phone systems so people calling can speak with providers in their community rather than a centralized office and create partnerships to better recruit nurses and hospital staff.

“I am personally committed to this,” Pattison said. “We have a strategic plan that is divided into quality, access and transparency.”

Pattison’s commitment to the issue isn’t enough for the commissioners, however. So far this year, 420 Summit County residents have received care from Mind Springs, but only one has been submitted to the hospital.

Those numbers are troubling for Pogue, who said she doesn’t currently see a path forward between the county and Mind Springs in an interview after the meeting.

“Mind Springs is being paid millions to serve Summit County and thus far this year from Summit County there has been literally one hospital admission,” she said. “That’s just not acceptable in terms of what people deserve in our community.”

Upcoming and recently passed state laws are also aimed at holding providers like Mind Springs accountable. A bill introduced to the Colorado House of Representatives outlines the responsibilities of the state’s new Behavioral Health Administration, which was established in 2019. The bill also prohibits safety-net providers like Mind Springs from refusing care based on insurance status and many other factors.

The state likely won’t see the effects of the bill until 2024, which is too long for the commissioners who want to see action now.

“People are struggling in a way that I cannot possibly convey to you in my community,” Pogue said to Pattison and his team. “It is my responsibility to try and alleviate some of that suffering, and I can’t do it in this system.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.