Southern Colorado agencies seek mental health grant to expand emergency services

By Jakob Rodgers Published: August 28, 2013 | 8:40 pm 0

A seven-bed behavioral health ward and expanded respite and residential services are at the center of a plan to beef up mental health care in the Pikes Peak region - all with the goal of keeping many of those patients out of hospital emergency rooms.

A consortium involving the Colorado Springs-based AspenPointe outlined its plan Wednesday in a grant application to the Colorado Department of Human Services, which expects to award nearly $20 million in September to transform emergency mental health care across the state.

Up to $3.8 million of that total could come to the department's southeast Colorado region, an area including Colorado Springs and about 20 counties. Much less would likely flow to the Pikes Peak region.

It was not immediately clear how many entities applied to address the state's southeast region, except for the consortium involving AspenPointe, which provides a range of mental health services in southern Colorado, and SyCare, a group of four behavioral health centers serving Pueblo and rural southern Colorado.

If awarded, though, the consortium would devote roughly $1.5 million to El Paso, Park and Teller counties, said Jason DeaBueno, vice president of AspenPointe's Health Services.

Specifically, that funding would create:

- A behavioral health ward at AspenPointe's Lighthouse facility, featuring three, 23-hour observation beds and four beds where people could be held for more intensive care;

- Mobile crisis teams in Park and Teller counties that would take patients straight to the ward, further relieving pressure on hospital emergency rooms;

- Expanded respite and residential treatment services, including at least 742 additional respite bed days (a measurement denoting one day of care).

The funding offers a critical start - nothing more - to fixing a massive problem, DeaBueno said.. "It's kind of a first step toward a bigger initiative, I think that the community's trying to solve," DeaBueno said. "Is it the magic bullet? No... I think it is creating some avenue of support. But again, it won't be the magic bullet to fix all of this at this point."

The plan stems from an effort that began in October when 110 behavioral health leaders met to discuss the region's mounting mental health needs. The summit spawned several workgroups, including one that examined emergency room and triage care for mental health patients.

Two months after that October meeting, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a five-point plan to transform behavioral health care across the state in the wake of mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn.

The governor's push led to legislation last spring offering nearly $20 million in grants. The grant process opened a day before the local workgroups reconvened to present their recommendations at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

The recommendations aligned closely with the state's grant requirements.

If the grants are awarded, the question becomes how to keep those programs sustainable.

The state's grants amount to a sliver of the needed funding, experts say, to adequately address emergency mental health care in the Pikes Peak region.

"It's just a representation of the dire straights of community resources that we have," said Heather Finch, interim behavioral health program manager at Memorial Hospital. "I think we really need to take ownership as a community that this really is an issue. And that our funding. we don't have great funding for behavioral health."

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Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

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