Behavioral health services are in short supply across the United States, but a county in western Colorado is hoping a new initiative will coordinate existing behavioral health entities and substance use disorder programs in the region.
The $50,000 Be Well Initiative, which was recently approved by Pitkin County commissioners, aims to bring together agencies and nonprofits in the Roaring Fork Valley region to establish a continuum of care and provide greater access to behavioral health care for county residents.
“It’s a pilot for us right now, to see how it goes,” says Karen Koenemann, public health director at Pitkin County Public Health. “It’s very much at the systems level. We’re not looking to provide direct service, it’s how [can] we coordinate the services that are happening and continue to identify gaps and address those gaps?”
To align those services, the initiative established a Be Well Coordinator, who will align groups in the region and devise funding strategies with local municipalities, including Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, Colo., the Aspen School Districts and Aspen Valley Hospital. Koenemann also envisions that the coordinator will also enter data into the public health department’s dashboard system and compile metrics related to the county’s community health improvement plan.
The initiative is largely a response to a 2016 Pitkin County Public Health Community Needs Assessment and a 2017 Regional Community Needs Assessment conducted for Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin Counties in Colorado.
Residents who responded to the 2016 survey expressed concern about the lack of behavioral health services in Pitkin County and felt the county wasn’t doing enough to address behavioral health issues. The survey found suicide to be the fourth-leading cause of death in Pitkin County; it is the seventh-leading cause of death across the state, the Aspen Times reports.
In 2017, the survey found substance use ranked among the top health concerns in each county surveyed. That included a higher percentage of adult binge drinkers than the Colorado state average of 18.4 percent.
A number of behavioral health and substance use services are available in the area, such as Aspen Hope Center, which is dedicated to crisis intervention, and Aspen Strong, which is focused on prevention. But residents and providers often struggle to match patients with the best program or service for them, says Koenemann. Ultimately, the hope is that this initiative can create that care continuum for the county.