Colorado Governor Supports Organization's Behavioral Health Outlay

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently spoke to an audience at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, Colo., expressing support for Vail Health's decision to invest $60 million in behavioral health care for the Eagle River Valley community.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis recently spoke to an audience at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards, Colo., expressing support for Vail Health's decision to invest $60 million in behavioral health care for the community. Polis said the community faces challenges due to a lack of coordinated resources and said the new behavioral health initiative will be crucial to the health of the community. "I wanted to celebrate the important role that Vail Health has taken. Thank you for getting ahead of the curve on this. We deeply appreciate Vail Health's true leadership in meeting the behavioral health needs of the valley," he said.

Vail Health President and CEO Will Cook recognized health care workers, educators, and community leaders who have been on the front lines of the initiative. "While it’s a multi-faceted problem, the single most important component to being successful in tackling behavioral health is that it must be a community-wide, ground-up effort," he said.

According to Vail Health, a nonprofit community health care system with 12 locations across Eagle and Summit counties, mountain towns across the West are being labeled as part of the "suicide belt" in the United States. Vail Health emergency room visits for anxiety and depression rose 360 percent (from 63 to 290) between 2013 and 2018, while Eagle County lost 17 people to suicide in 2018, up 183 percent from the total in 2016. "While the $1.3 million contributed by Eagle County to support behavioral health initiatives, including funds raised from marijuana sales and excise tax, is a start, more needs to be done," according to the agency.

Chris Lindley, director of Eagle County Public Health, also has been instrumental to the initiative. "We're a community that builds its recognition and enthusiasm around physical health, with skiing, mountain biking, and other activities, but we seem to have forgotten our behavioral health. We must spend as much time, money, and effort on our behavioral health," Lindley said.

Vail Health's funding commitment over the next 10 years aims to transform behavioral health services in the Eagle River Valley. In partnership with Eagle County community groups, a new nonprofit collaborative is being formed to help build needed facilities, improve access to providers, and lower barriers to accessing behavioral health care for its residents. According to the agency, there is a dire need for more behavioral health providers and experts in the community. Eagle County currently has 1.8 behavioral health employees for every 1,000 residents, compared to the Colorado average of 2.9 per 1,000. To reach even the state average will require an additional 50 providers. The initiative will focus on bringing additional therapists, licensed clinical social workers, psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists to the community, including into schools and the county jail.

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