Mental health officials lay out their plan for the upcoming year

— Moffat County leaders and mental health officials discussed a plan on Monday to expand mental health resources on the Western Slope.

On a larger scale, Colorado West Regional Mental Health would be setting up more psychiatric beds across the region, said Craig Thornhill, program director for Colorado West. As of now, there are few psychiatric beds — only 32 in the Grand Junction CWRMH hospital.

The Memorial Hospital can deal with some emergency medical patients who need to detox, but they’re not set up for psychiatric beds, said Jennifer Riley, chief of organizational excellence at TMH.

“We can handle patients who are detoxing if they are having medical problems,” she said. “We just don’t have the ability to bring in people who need to sober up.”

Thornhill said they would be increasing the number of beds for those sorts of patients.

“By next summer, roughly July, we should have some more available beds,” he said.

He said he wants CWRMH to set up respite beds in local areas.

"We wouldn’t be building new buildings but creatively using spaces that exist,” Thornhill said.

He also wants to speed up the process.

“We’re looking to create faster psychiatric access,” Thornhill said. “My CEO and agency is working to obtain some funding for crisis stabilization units.”

These units would provide a spot for emergency mental health care — something rural Colorado lacks.

County Commissioner John Kinkaid said it was good CWRMH was taking these steps to improve access.

“We need to make great strides in this area and in mental health,” he said. “People are falling through the cracks, and (we) think they’re getting underserved.”

Because the nearest site with psychiatric beds is in Grand Junction, Kinkaid said it can be difficult for people to get the help they need.

“It’s hard to know where to go for help,” he said.

A big local issue, Thornhill said, was making transportation affordable for people who needed to be placed on a psychiatric hold.

The Craig Police Department spent over $12,000 on transports for psychiatric holds, said Police Chief Walt Vanatta.

“We’re looking to offset that with local funders to really bring that number down,” Thornhill said.

He plans on doing that by training his mental health professionals to ride along on those type of transports.

Suicide in Moffat County is also a pressing concern, said Thornhill.

The suicide rate is above the national average and above the Colorado average, he said.

That is one reason his organization is going to be offering more mental health first aid courses.

"(It provides) some nuts and bolts of mental health: How to interact with some mental health issues,” Thornhill said. "It really gives people some tools.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to meet the needs of these communities,” Thornhill said.

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@craigdailypress.com

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