SMBHS

The San Miguel Behavioral Health Solutions Panel has provided funds for mental health needs throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy image) 

The San Miguel Behavioral Health Solutions got to work earlier than anticipated, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While initially the panel expected the first round of funding to occur in the summer of 2020, the coronavirus changed its plans in March. In contributing to the local pandemic response, the panel allocated nearly 10 percent of its annual funding to the Good Neighbor Fund to be distributed to individuals who need behavioral health services, but may need help paying for them. Residents and individuals who work in San Miguel County with a proven financial need are eligible to receive up to $1,500 for behavioral health treatments. To date, 21 individuals have been able to access services, according to a news release. 

“The panel recognized the needs in the community due to the pandemic, and quickly moved to fund behavioral health services for individuals who might not be otherwise able afford them by providing funds through the Good Neighbor Fund,” said Paul Reich, Tri-County Health Network (TCHNetwork) behavioral health program manager. “This has been a great help to community members in San Miguel County.”

The panel, which was created through the taxpayer approved 2018 Ballot Measure 1A, has begun to distribute funds from a 0.75 mill property tax to support local behavioral health services in the San Miguel County.  

Throughout last fall and early winter, the panel, working with staff from TCHNetwork, gathered information about the current services and identified needs related to behavioral health through surveys, focus groups and key stakeholder interviews.  

“These funds have paid for services from organizations like The Center For Mental Health, as well as individual and family therapy from local providers in Telluride, Norwood and Ridgway,” according to Sami Damsky, one of the TCHNetwork team members overseeing the Good Neighbor Fund. “Without access to these funds, these individuals would not have been able to afford treatment.”  

For more information about applying for the funds, visit tchnetwork.org/gnf-application.

The panel also made $60,000 available for local agencies to provide behavioral health services to their clients. Four local organizations, including the Telluride Regional Medical Center, the Uncompahgre Medical Center, the Center for Mental Health and TCHNetwork applied for and received funds to assist clients in receiving needed behavioral health services. All four organizations will be reporting to the panel about their use of funds in October, according to the realse.  

“These funds have allowed us to be reimbursed for providing mental health treatments to our clients who couldn’t afford them,” said Lindsay Wright, one of two behavioral health therapists at the Telluride Regional Medical Center. “We have seen an increase in need due to COVID-19, and providing mental health supports to our clients has been so important to help them through these challenging times. These funds were key to allowing clients to receive services.”

The Telluride and Norwood schools both applied for and received $50,000 in funding to support social-emotional learning in the schools. Telluride’s grant will be used to implement a district-wide K-12 social emotional curriculum, while Norwood’s grant will be used to enhance the district’s current work around restorative justice and positive behavioral health supports and interventions in the schools over the next three years.  

“These funds will allow us to build on our work around social emotional learning and further enhance our ability to support our students and their behavioral health needs,” Norwood School Counselor Rick Williams said.

To address crisis services in the county, the panel asked for grant applications from local agencies and received a request from the San Miguel County Sheriff, on behalf of all county law enforcement agencies, to fund the expansion of its 24-hour crisis co-responder program. The Sheriff’s Office received a grant in the amount of $59,600 to hire a part-time therapist to respond with law enforcement officers to mental health crises in the county.

The panel continues to work to identify its priorities for the next three to five years. 

“Our goal is to support initiatives, agencies and organizations to close the gaps, improve access to services, and improve the mental health and wellness of all of our citizens,” said Carol Friedrich, chair of the panel and the director of social services for San Miguel and Ouray counties.

The San Miguel County Board of County Commissioners recently appointed Perri Gipner, director of education for the Norwood School District, to serve on the panel in representing the local schools. In addition, Chuck Porth, the CEO of the Uncompahgre Medical Center, will be joining the panel at its Oct. 22 meeting.  

“These two are great voices for the west end of our county, ensuring that funds and services are available for the entire county — a view endorsed by all the panel,” Reich said. 

The panel provides regular updates to the community and local governments. For more information, visit sanmiguelbehavioralhealth.org