Proposed mental health facility on November ballot

No one understands better than Laurie Stolen the importance of establishing a full-service, 24-hour facility in Larimer County to address and treat issues of mental health and substance use disorder among its citizens. As director of Larimer County’s Alternative Sentencing unit she has seen the consequences of not being able to provide timely, high-quality, appropriate treatment for thousands of citizens who need it.

She supervises six county programs geared toward making it possible for offenders to remain productive members of the community as they serve their sentences. Programs include pretrial services, community service, workenders, midweek and work-release programs and electronic home detention. While these programs work well and go a long way toward reducing “jail bed days,” they are not enough according to Stolen.

She says too often the nearest detox facility located in Greeley is full. Statistics show that people with mental health issues have wait times as long as ten hours before they are seen in emergency rooms.

Cost comparisons make a behavioral health care facility look like a bargain. Average daily hospital cost is $2,500; detox costs are $205 a day. Annual jail time for one person: $32,000, annual treatment for mental health outside a live-in facility, $1,551.

The county’s population is growing and recent estimates suggest that up to 75,000 residents are dealing with a mental health and/or substance abuse issue. For a long time now, the county has needed a place to provide comprehensive, round-the clock services.

Larimer County Commissioner Steve Johnson in a recent column noted that mental health care in the county does not match the physical health care that is available. There are several reasons, he believes. There is still a stigma around mental health issues; they are often more complex to treat and insurance does not cover treatment adequately resulting in problems with access, lack of treatment and lack of options and facilities.

In February 2013 a community summit meeting conducted by the county to assess future needs listened to the recommendation of a Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Partnership and adopted their proposal for a detox/mental facility as part of their strategic plan. Three years later the Commissioners voted unanimously to place the proposal on the November 2016 ballot. Former state Sen. Peggy Reeves and former county Commissioner Cheryl Olsen did the research necessary to initiate what has become a citizen-led initiative.

The proposed facility will be funded by a quarter percent sales tax estimated to raise $16.5 a year for the next 25 years. Stolen says that ideally the facility will be located close to the middle of the county in a campus-like setting with enough space suitable for related agencies and services such as the housing authority.

The proposed size of the facility is based on an estimate of 1,400 people in the county currently unable to get services who would likely seek treatment and 44,000 adults with mental illness, the majority of whom have never received the treatment they need.

The facility will reduce the use of emergency rooms, hospitals, ambulance services, police, courts and jails. It will offer assessments, connections to existing services, short-term live-in treatment for acute mental problems, withdrawal management from substances, outpatient care and intensive substance use disorder treatment. Clients will have access to financial assistance with transportation, medications and the cost of care. Staff will also be able to assist with coordinating services for those with the need for long-term residential services to manage the most severe disorders.

Stolen said, “It’s time for Larimer County to provide the behavioral health care that so many people need with more economical and better outcomes.” Johnson believes the issue to be the most important one on the November ballot.

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