Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue Speaks to a Panel About Colorado’s Mental Health Safety Net

Assistant Summit County Manager Sarah Vaine and Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue will sit in the Summit County Courthouse on Tuesday, September 8, 2021. Pogue and Vaine are mental health advocates and are both working with other county employees to increase access to acute care in the county.
Photo by John Hanson/For the Summit Daily News

Coloradan Russel Goodman knew his daughter was not well. It was 2017 and there was no snow on the ground. Although Goodman can’t remember the exact date, he does remember the night he spent hours helping his 16-year-old daughter. He tried desperately to keep her alive, but he knew she needed more help than he could give.

She was in a mental health crisis.

However, in Steamboat Springs, where he and his daughter lived at the time, there were and are limited mental health resources. So they were forced to go to the ICU.

A crisis intervention worker visited and spoke to them while his daughter was in her ICU hospital bed. Goodman reported that the crisis intervention worker was very empathetic.

“I think we made some progress that night,” Goodman said. “We cried, we hugged, we somehow survived that night.”

Goodman had to work the next morning and decided to get a coffee before starting a full day of work.

“The woman who handed me the coffee through the window was the crisis intervention worker from the night before,” he said.

The state’s behavioral health system has come under scrutiny in recent years, as has one of its community mental health centers, Mind Springs Health. In the past week, numerous findings have been published about how Mind Springs has struggled to provide the services it has contracted to do so.

That’s why tensions were high when six people whose careers — and for Goodman, whose family’s livelihoods — depend on mental health care, sat down for a panel discussion on Tuesday, May 17. about where Colorado’s behavioral health system has gone wrong.

The panel was hosted by the Colorado News Collaborative, a nonprofit coalition of more than 170 newsrooms across Colorado. It was moderated by Susan Green, a Pulitzer-nominated independent journalist who recently wrote an article about the Mind Springs investigation.

Under Russell Goodman, some of the other panelists were Dr. Carl Clark, President and CEO of Mental Health Center of Denver and Tamara Pogue, Commissioner of Summit County.

When the panel started, Green asked Pogue, “What do you need?”

In response, Pogue focused on two things. The first was an acknowledgment of how bad conditions have been for people in Summit County who are in dire need of mental health care. The second was choice. She said community members should have “a choice of providers who are held accountable, who answer their phones, who make appointments, who are there when people are in crisis so that people don’t have to go to law enforcement for treatment. “

Goodman’s story seemed to strike a chord with the district commissioner.

“I think Russell’s story is also the story of so many people in Summit County,” Pogue said. “It’s one of the reasons I’m so passionate about fixing this system.”

Pogue went on to say that not only does Goodman’s story represent the community members in Summit County who are struggling to get care, but it also highlights the issue of funding, such as paying a crisis intervention worker enough so that they don’t get a second job at one. coffee store.

Pogue said the county wants to bring about change by reallocating funds, but no one can figure out how much money there is or where it is being spent. According to Pogue, the county has repeatedly asked how much money Summit County has for the behavioral health system, and the only response they’ve gotten is, “It’s very complicated.”

If there are programs the county would like to set up to fill the gaps in care that behavioral health hospitals like Mind Springs can’t provide, the money has to come from county dollars. This financing comes from a mill levy, from the state, sometimes from the general fund of the province.

However, if there were enough state money to fully fund the behavioral health resources, the county’s money could go toward other things, such as roads, water, sewage, and open space.

“That money can be used six or seven times for a number of different things,” Pogue said.

And yet behavioral health workers are forced to take two jobs to support themselves. dr. Clark, the president and CEO of the Mental Health Center in Denver, mentioned to the panel that there are 93 full-time behavioral health positions open at his facility.

When Goodman saw that crisis intervention worker on the other side of that coffee shop driving through the window, he said he just wanted to cry.

“I had all these emotions that I kind of tucked away and put away so I could start my day, and when I saw her, I immediately felt a sense of camaraderie, that I wasn’t alone in the world,” Goodman says. said.

But Goodman also said he felt stunned. And yet he understood.

“After you go to college, go to high school and build up student loans, you take a $32,000 a year job, trying to do the right thing, and you can’t survive. … Not in this climate,” he said of the training that mental health professionals typically receive.

Pogue insists it’s about priorities.

“It seems to me that there could be a redistribution of resources that would help people choose behavioral health as a profession, or help people stay in the profession, or help people not have two jobs,” Pogue said.

Next week, Pogue will meet with Dr. Morgan Medlock, the state’s new Commissioner for Behavioral Health, to discuss funds, reforms and priorities further. The province also collects community responses through a survey to get local input on mental health needs.

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