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A breakdown of The Center for Mental Health’s San Miguel Services, which were shared during last week’s intergovernmental meeting. (Courtesy image)

At the Center for Mental Health — the organization that provides services to Delta, Gunnison, Montrose, San Miguel, Ouray and Hinsdale counties — collaboration is key in meeting the needs of the region.

Locally, Paul Reich, the center’s community relations liaison, explained offices in Telluride and Norwood help keep behavioral health professionals in San Miguel County, and the center has increased its virtual offerings since the start of the pandemic in reaching as many individuals in the area as possible.

“While some clients prefer in person, we’ve found a surprising number who want to continue to see their clinicians virtually. This allows us to utilize our staff from across our region. In addition, we are offering some of our group sessions virtually, can offer psychiatry virtually and even our DUI classes have become virtual,” he explained.

The effort isn’t one the center can undertake alone, as several local entities — including Tri-County Health Network, county schools and the Sheriff’s Office — have worked together to increase access to behavioral health services, particularly since a 2018 San Miguel County proposed tax increase passed by a landslide at the polls.

Reich, formerly of Tri-County Health Network, explained such teamwork only strengthens the message that more services are still needed and an area of emphasis within the region.

“We work closely with schools, peace officers, social services, private providers, local medical clinics, local governments and others to provide behavioral health services in our communities. No one organization can meet all the needs in the community, so collaboration is critical to meet the needs in our communities,” he said. “We’re fortunate to have great partners in San Miguel County who have worked together over the past five or six years, and, of course, San Miguel County voters supported a tax increase in 2018 to fund behavioral health services. That’s such an important step forward for the community and really encourages that collaboration.”

Unfortunately, the pandemic has “dramatically increased” that need, he added, which means the work is never truly done. The center’s Crisis Walk-In Center in Montrose also has seen an uptick in visits.

“COVID-19 has dramatically increased the need for mental health services in our schools and community, particularly around anxiety, mental health and substance use. On the positive side, we’ve all become more comfortable talking about mental health and mental illness. We continue to be challenged as a state with developing and retaining our workforce — that’s true locally, but also across the state,” he said. “Within the region, we opened the Crisis Walk-In Center a little over two years ago. A lot of community members have benefited from the services available there. Surprisingly, a little over half of the people we’ve helped have been adolescents. It’s clear that it is a critical resource for our youth and their families.”

Another recent effort to increase access care is the merger between the center and Axis Health Systems.

Axis is the only Community Mental Health Center and Community Health Center in Colorado with nine locations across Archuleta, Dolores, La Plata, Montezuma, and San Juan counties, according to a recent news release. The center and Axis have partnered on a variety of service contracts and care delivery projects over the past 30-plus years.

“The decision is a result of our shared view that the best health care delivery will require increased scale, enhanced administrative capacity and better coverage capacity. The new organization will be an even better resource for our communities and allow us to innovate and evolve as we continue to respond to emerging health care needs,” Axis CEO Shelly Burke said.

The combined organization will have approximately 460 employees and provide services to approximately 19,000 patients across the larger region. The respective board of directors for the center and Axis will continue to operate in parallel, but in partnership, until the merger is complete in the spring. At that time, the boards will be merged.

There will be no disruption in services for either organization during the merger process, according to the release, and both organizations will continue to accept new patients.

“We believe that it will give us a lot deeper resources and more staff, and a better system for people in our region,” said Shelly Spalding, the center’s CEO. “The merger will give us more bench strength for staff growth and development, and more staff will mean we will have access to more specialists and more specialty care options.”

For more information about the center, visit centermh.org. For more about Axis, visit axishealthsystem.org.