Opinion | Linda Harmon: Summit County is leading the way on behavioral health | SummitDaily.com

Opinion | Linda Harmon: Summit County is leading the way on behavioral health

Linda Harmon
Positive Progressive Thinking

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” This saying is very appropriately found on one of the first pages of the Summit County 2018-2022 Final Community Health Improvement Plan.

It’s a perfect statement for this report, which resulted in a thorough study produced by 34 county leaders both elected and employed. Headed by Amy Wineland, director of the Summit County Public Health Department, and Marshall Denkinger, CEO of St. Anthony Summit Hospital, these leaders put their heads together to address mental health, substance use and health equity, the determinants of health.

Democratic Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons is at the heart of these efforts. His work on this report, as well as his implementation of the Systemwide Mental Assessment Response Team, resulted in FitzSimons being appointed to the statewide Behavioral Health Task Force Subpanel. He’s the only Colorado county sheriff serving on the task force.

“With all the work we have done in Summit County around mental health, serving on this task force is a wonderful honor,” he said.

According to a report issued in January by the Colorado Behavioral Health Task Force, Colorado ranks at or near the bottom of states in meeting our behavioral health challenges. The report goes on to say that suicide rates among young people have gone up over 51% in the past decade and that 1.6 million Coloradans struggle with mental illness or substance use disorders. Additionally, hundreds of people in counties throughout the state are left in jail for months, without being convicted of a crime, because those counties have failed to support them in being competent to stand trial.

With these challenges, it is easy to see why Summit County’s sheriff is playing an important role in making recommendations to this statewide task force. FitzSimons is committed to leading the way on developing statewide programs that work well in Summit County, including the SMART program and Building Hope Summit County.

The Summit County community health plan stated that our county has a below average score for the number of mental health providers per capita. This is an extremely important issue for our county leaders to address since a survey in the plan indicated that 66% of residents say they know someone who is struggling with mental health or substance use. Additionally, one out of every four high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless almost every day for more than two weeks.

Fortunately, the combined leadership of our three Democratic county commissioners, former Democratic commissioners Dan Gibbs and Thomas Davidson, state Rep. Julie McCluskie as well as FitzSimons are actively working to improve the mental health provider situation. This includes addressing the fact that there are no intensive outpatient youth services or psychosocial programs in the community.

In 2018, the Summit County Public Health Department received funding, and today it is in the process of identifying and training providers as well as initiating an adolescent intensive outpatient therapy program. These programs will be implemented by the combined efforts of the Summit Community Care Clinic, Building Hope, Mind Springs Health and Summit School District.

Their goals in 2022 include establishing a medication-assisted treatment site with the help of Summit County Public Health, St. Anthony Summit Hospital and Ebert Family Clinic. Additionally, they want to establish a half-day psychosocial rehab program, which will be the responsibility of Mind Springs Health.

If that isn’t impressive enough, our county health leaders are in the process of developing a variety of prevention and educational strategies that will improve family wellness. This little gem is being developed by the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, Building Hope, Summit County Public Health, Summit County Youth and Family Services, Summit School District and St. Anthony Summit Hospital.

The little engine of Summit County may be small, but we have Democratic leaders who are dedicated to being a community of generosity and empathy. Our county will continue to lead the way and be an example for how to honestly assess the mental health needs of the community. We will make it up the seemingly insurmountable hill to better mental health for all if we keep Democratic leaders.

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