Summit County officials eye new Mind Springs CEO with hope, but keep local health care efforts in direct line of sight
The Mind Springs board of directors has chosen John Sheehan, who comes from Rochester Regional Health Information Organization in Rochester, New York. Sheehan began as their CEO and president in August 2021.
Sheehan will begin his new position at Mind Springs in early August with a base salary of $400,000 and a three-year contract. He comes to Mind Springs after eight months of investigations into the organization’s operations.
In March, the Colorado News Collaborative reported state officials had kept life-threatening incidents at Mind Springs under wraps. In May, a tri-agency audit was performed after many complaints about Mind Springs emerged. Some of these complaints were from whistleblowers that came forward about alleged falsified patient records.
Furthermore, Summit County residents have come forward with testimonies of loved ones who they believe were mistreated by Mind Springs’ health care system.
In light of these findings, Summit County has started to cut ties with Mind Springs, and leaders are considering joining Eagle County’s new community mental health center called Eagle Valley Behavioral Health.
While open to the possibility of positive change with Sheehan’s arrival, Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she’s more focused on Summit County’s internal efforts to support its residents’ mental health. Regarding the county’s plans to cut ties with Mind Springs, Pogue said nothing is official yet, and there’s a reason why.
Colorado’s recent legislative session brought forth a plethora of new legislation aimed at improving the mental health system within the state.
Pogue explained the new legislation would encourage local community providers to fill behavioral health needs. It encourages authenticity because the provider would not receive dollars until they prove they can deliver effective behavioral health care.
“Let’s just say, you know, a private practice provider in Summit County that feels like he or she has the capacity to meet all of those standards, can then apply to become the safety net provider for Summit County,” Pogue said. “So it just makes it a much more transparent process than what we have right now.”
She added that a local community system would be a much more “organic and homegrown” approach compared to Summit County’s relationship with Mind Springs.
Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons feels similarly.
“We’ve moved on from Mind Springs,” FitzSimons said. “We’ve taken care of our own community. It’s more about — what can Mind Springs offer at this point?”
FitzSimons expressed his gratitude for how the community has supported mental health access.
“When I say that our tremendous overwhelming success is due to our community and our stakeholders in the community, that’s what Minds Springs — even if they came back tomorrow — couldn’t duplicate. It’s not their community,” he said.
Even if the county is no longer reliant on Mind Springs, both officials said they were hopeful that Sheehan would try to repair ties with Summit County.
Sheehan has been in the behavioral health field since he was 18. After being in the field for so long, Sheehan has worn many hats within the behavioral health industry. He’s worked in in-patient care, technology and administration and was the vice president of Baycare Health System Incorporated in Tampa, Florida.
Stefan Bates, the president of the Mind Springs Board of Health, said they used a recruiter in their search to find a new CEO. Between a dozen candidates, Bates said Sheehan checked all the boxes — both on paper and in character.
Sheehan said he took the role because he feels he has something to offer the Western Slope. Part of that is his belief that mental health should be treated just as important as physical health.
“We have to treat behavioral health in the future state like we treat hearts,” Sheehan said. “And so if that’s the new norm — well — then there needs to be a transformation of the system, which means organizations like Mind Springs have to transform.”
He also recognized that there has been a negative perception of Mind Springs.
“You know, I’ve read the concerns about Mind Springs,” Sheehan said. “It comes down to how much care we are providing to the community for the resources that we receive, and what is the quality of that care.”
Pogue would like to see the basic infrastructure of Mind Springs change first, “making sure that the phones get answered, making sure that voicemail messages are returned, making sure that folks can get their prescriptions renewed when they’re due,” she suggested.
As soon as he starts, Sheehan’s first priority is to listen first to his staff and then to the community. To his staff, Sheehan wants to make his intentions clear.
“I want them to understand that my first job is to eliminate any fear that they have that I’m going to do something to further injure the organization,” he said.
Next, he wants to hear what the community needs from him.
“I’m gonna go, and I’m going to sit with law enforcement. I’m going to sit with county commissioners. I’m going to sit with physicians. I’m going to sit with hospitals,” he said.
Sheehan added that strategies to improve mental well-being won’t come from staying in his office.
So how will Mind Springs ensure Sheehan is making improvements? Bates said there is a new system of oversight within the Mind Springs system.
Before Sheehan, Bates said much of Mind Springs’ oversight revolved more around financial issues instead of the quality of care. Now, they’re responsible for quality assurance as well. This means their oversight is less about finance and more about how they are treating their patients, moving to a half-and-half model.
That also applies to Sheehan’s role. While Bates said he couldn’t speak to the balance of meeting financial goals versus meeting quality assurance goals for previous CEOs, he said Sheehan will be more responsible for meeting auditing compliance goals than the CEOs before him.
Bates said Mind Springs has three main “avenues” to improve on, including access, quality and transparency.
“I’m hopeful. I know that there’s been a tough relationship between Mind Springs and Summit County, especially over the last three, four years. I’m really hopeful that that relationship can be mended,” Bates said.
- System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team, otherwise known as the SMART team, run by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office
- 70 private providers in Summit County that take both insurance and Building Hope therapy vouchers
- Summit Wellness Hub, a mental health service that attempts to fill the gaps of mental health access in Summit County by providing therapy, counseling, and education
- Mile High Behavioral Health, a behavioral health hospital in Denver
- Front Range Clinic, an addiction recovery resource center with multiple locations throughout the Front Range. Last summer, the county explored a partnership with Front Range Clinic. According to previous Summit Daily reporting, it was predicted to be official by the fall of 2021.
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