UCHealth Memorial Hospital Colorado Springs.jpeg

UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central. Photo courtesy of UCHealth. 

The Gazette has complained for years about society’s irrational efforts to solve the health care crisis. Politicians and pundits talk about who should pay, who should not pay, and how we might better allocate and redistribute access to limited health care services.

Seldom does anyone talk about the health care crisis as a health care shortage. Seldom does anyone talk about increasing the supply of health care in any given market.

All that changed Wednesday, when UCHealth held a news conference at the University of Colorado Hospital on the Anschutz Medical Campus to announce an attack on Colorado’s mental health care shortage.

With a series of investigative articles this year, The Gazette has reported on a statewide behavioral health care crisis that is obviously caused by a shortage of care. More than half of counties in Colorado have zero psychiatrists. In Colorado Springs, we have about one psychiatrist for every 70,000 residents. Our research found about 382,000 Colorado residents lack access to mental health care.

Any solution will have to include more mental health care providers, and UCHealth has committed to making that happen.

“UCHealth is dedicating at least $100 million over the next five years to comprehensively address behavioral health needs for patients across Colorado. Philanthropic donations of an additional $25 million, matched by UCHealth, could bring the total investment to $150 million,” says a UCHealth news release.

As explained by Gazette reporter Stephanie Earls, UCHealth will use the money to embed mental health care professionals in primary care offices, to build and expand telepsychiatry and virtual care and ultimately complete an inpatient behavioral health unit at the University of Colorado Hospital.

In an interview with Gazette editors and a reporter this week, UCHealth CEO Elizabeth Concordia said patients throughout the state should start seeing licensed clinical social workers and psychologists working in conjunction with primary care physicians. This is great news. Mental health and physical health are intractably intertwined. They should not be treated as silos.

“We think it will significantly improve access for the residents in Colorado and specifically for Colorado Springs in those primary care practices,” Concordia said.

The expansion of UCHealth’s telecare services means patients in the most remote health care deserts will have the option to consult with behavioral health professionals over smartphones, tablets, computers and interactive TV monitors. Telecare in emergency rooms will help physicians and patients in areas devoid of on-sight mental health professionals.

Dr. Neill Epperson, chair of psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told the Gazette she hopes the investment will lure more medical students into mental health care specialties.

Colorado and Colorado Springs have pronounced and growing mental health care concerns and precious few resources to draw upon.

The result is deadly, as unaddressed mental illnesses sometimes lead to suicides. Untreated mental conditions can manifest in substance abuse, which too often leads to overdoses and other accidental deaths.

UCHealth is doing the right thing to counter the mental health care shortage. It is creating and funding more care. Governments, politicians, insurance companies and all segments of the health care industry should pay attention and follow suit. The health care crisis is a health care shortage. The solution is more health care, whatever it takes.

There is no substitute.

The Gazette Editorial Board

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