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Behavioral health a blemish in Colorado's otherwise healthy reputation

Posted at 8:57 PM, Sep 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-22 00:42:52-04

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DENVER – Colorado may be known as the healthiest state in the nation, but that designation comes with an asterisk. That asterisk is behavioral health.

When the new West Springs Hospital in Grand Junction opens later this year it will have double the number of beds of the current hospital, in part because of the vast area from which the hospital gets patients.

For more information about Mental Health First Aid classes, visit the Community Reach Center's website

“Our current hospital which is 32 beds is full almost every day,” executive vice president Kim Boe said. “West Springs is the only psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City.”

But it’s not just the western slope of Colorado that’s experiencing a need for behavioral health services. 

“When you’re talking about Colorado’s growth, we’re talking about one in four individuals who have mental health issues,” added Doug Muir, the regional director of behavioral health services for Centura Health.  In fact, Muir says Colorado is behind the cure.

“Behavioral health is where we’re not doing well, and you can see that in our high rates of death by suicide and our high rates of opioid overdose,” he said.

About one in every five people in Colorado will go through a period of depression at some point in their lives, and a growing number of those people are turning to suicide.  In 2004 that number was 795.  In 2016 that number grew to 1,140.

If you or someone you know would like to talk to someone about depression, stress, substance abuse, anxiety or other issues, call 1-844-225-0097 or Text “TALK” to 38255

“This is impacting more families than it's not and we need to step into it,” Muir said, adding that he believes the best solution is to get help to those patients before they reach the point of needing hospitalization.

“If we can get ahead of the crisis and support individuals earlier on, then we are going to have less need for those in-patient beds,” he said.

The Community Reach Center in Adams County focuses on getting assistance to those who need it before they end up in the hospital.  CEO Rick Doucet says many times people don’t get the help they need because they don’t believe they can afford it.

“We still have a problem with insurance being out of reach for many people,” Doucet said. 

“Those are the people who end up in hospitals because they put it off and put it off.  They haven't gotten the services they needed and now they're crashing.”

That’s why the Community Reach Center has taken their work into community, providing services at more than 70 schools, the Adams County Jail and even working with people in their homes.

“Most of our services are actually in the community, they're not in a brick & mortar facility,” Doucet added.

But those who need brick and mortar facilities often have a hard time finding them as growth and lack of affordable housing push people further outside the metro area.

“We have people waiting on a referral list who need a psychiatric hospital bed or are an imminent risk to themselves or others and we don't have a bed for them,” Boe said while talking about why West Springs needed to grow from 32 to 64.

Ultimately, the goal is to get rid of some of the stigma that surrounds talking about mental health and get people thinking about behavioral health care as much as they do physical health care.

“Making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation without the asterisk of behavioral health,” Muir said.

For more information about Mental Health First Aid classes, visit the Community Reach Center's website