Mental Health Check-Up for Lake County
Local mental health professionals and advocates met with Mental Health Colorado’s Executive Director Andrew Romanoff earlier this month to discuss “The State of Mental Health in Colorado.”
“I used to run the House of Representative,” said Romanoff referring to the time he served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 2001 to 2009, “now I run a state mental health organization.”
All joking aside, Romanoff is serious when it comes to improving access and affordability for treating depression and anxiety, in addition to the more complicated schizophrenia and other mental disorders. Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, he became interested in people’s psychological well-being at an early age, he said, sharing his story with a local group of a dozen people gathered in the AMAX room at the Lake County Public Library on November 13. Romanoff’s mother was a Democratic Social Worker and his father was a Republican Prosecutor.
“I have often wondered how many of the defendants that my Dad sentenced might have started out as a patient in my Mom’s mental hospital,” Romanoff explained, recalling a time in the social sciences’ most recent “de-institutionalization” history when hundreds of patients exiting mental hospitals ended up on the streets.
While 21st-century behavioral health resources are more refined, there are still hurdles, especially for rural Colorado. Several of those challenges were echoed by attendees at the November 13 meeting, which was sponsored by NAMI High Country.
Here’s the Leadville Today report on Lake County’s state of mind.
At Colorado Mountain College (CMC) in Leadville, Dean of Student Affairs, Skip Lee reported that CMC is seeing more students arriving on campus with pre-existing mental health issues. And while some of the old-school first-time-away-from-home college adjustments might be more formally categorized in today’s mental health gauge, there seemed to be additional needs beyond the Freshman blues.
To address these student needs Lee shared that CMC does have an active partnership with Solvista Health in Leadville. In addition the college assists in integrating mental health with primary medical care in Lake County, through offerings such as their Mental Health First Aid course, which is available to local organizations and community members.
Solvista Health was also represented at the meeting, with Jeri Lee, LCSW, and Kristina Sargent, LCSW, sharing some of their experiences and explaining the services they offer, including 3 full-time clinicians and one private therapist – all of whom accept various types of insurance.
Mike Bordogna represented the Leadville/Lake County Economic Development Corporation and expressed that with 72% of the local labor force going “over the hill” for work, that there could be a gap between insurance coverage with where people work, and the services that are available where they reside. Bordogna also expressed that there has been an increased stress level associated with the lack of affordable housing in Lake County.
There was also an employee from St. Vincent Hospital at the meeting who expressed the need for the gap to be closed between medical care, especially for Emergency Room visits, and the mental health care some patients may require once the medical urgency has been resolved. What is the next step for these people? It was apparent that if affordable housing was a basic need for many Leadville residents, then these patients who were transitioning to their next step of recovery were even more disenfranchised. “There is nowhere for them to go once they leave the emergency room,” the medical professional concluded.
At one point in the discussion, it was noted that there was no one at the meeting representing the Lake County School District (LCSD). Several attendees stated that they didn’t know what resources or policies the district had in place, citing that it was challenging to find specifics about how the school-based health system deals with mental health issues.
To that end, Leadville Today reached out after the meeting to LCSD’s Healthy Schools Director, Kerri Quinlan who was unable to attend the November 13 meeting due to other LCSD obligations. However, Quinlan was swift in providing the following information.
Here are some key notes about mental health in the school district:
Overall Mental Health Resources – On any given week, Quinlan spends about a quarter to a half of her time working directly on strengthening mental health supports in the district. “We recently completed some data collection in the schools that led us to post an additional full-time social worker position at Lake County Intermediate School (currently posted internally, and will be posted externally this Friday). This will also increase mental health supports at West Park since we are moving a half-time position there that was shared between the two schools. With this new position, we will have 1.5 to 2.0 FTE of mental health professionals in each school K-12 (not counting School-Based Health Center Staff),” reported Quinlan.
Prevention – Last year the LCSD introduced an evidence-based drug and alcohol prevention curriculum called “Life Skills Training” that starts in 5th grade and currently ends in 9th grade. “This year we introduced an evidence-based social-emotional curriculum called Second Step, which all students receive K-6. These curricula were selected in concert with school mental health staff members at CDE, and are shown to decrease risky behaviors, such as drug use and bullying, and increase positive factors such as coping skills, communication, and reaching out for help,” reported Quinlan.
School-Based Health Center – Currently, the School-Based Health Center therapists (who work for the Summit Community Care Clinic) provide about 55 hours per week of mental health therapy and case management across LCHS, LCIS and West Park. The therapists meet at least bi-weekly with school-level mental health staff for mental health collaboration team meetings. “These meetings help coordinate care for students who have been referred to therapy and serve as a problem-solving space for how to best support students. Students are referred to the SBHC by parents, teachers, school leadership, or from the primary care “arm” of the SBHC,” reported Quinlan.
In conclusion, Lake County fairs better than many rural communities when it comes to mental health resources. For readers looking for additional information please connect with Mental Health Colorado. In addition, Solvista Health in Leadville offers a Mental Health First Aid class, which is an 8-hour course to train people how to identify the signs of someone having a mental health crisis and how to get them help. If you’d like information about a Mental Health First Aid course, please call Solvista Health at 486-0985 or visit www.mhfaco.org.