By Dan Weaver
In one of the region’s largest and most comprehensive investments into behavioral health, UCHealth, based on the Anschutz Medical Campus, is dedicating at least $100 million over the next five years to address behavioral health needs for patients across Colorado. Philanthropic donations of an additional $25 million, matched by UCHealth, could bring the total investment to $150 million.
“More than 380,000 Coloradans aren’t receiving the mental health care they need, 67,000 require substance abuse treatment, and on average, Colorado loses about 1,000 people each year to suicide,” said UCHealth President and CEO Elizabeth Concordia. “These numbers show how significant the need is in our state. UCHealth is making this investment to provide comprehensive behavioral health care, and we’re calling on other organizations to join us.”
In addition to enhancing and growing UCHealth’s existing behavioral health services, the investment will improve access to care through three key initiatives:
- Integrating behavioral health with primary care: Teams of licensed clinical social workers and psychologists will work hand-in-hand with primary care physicians to provide immediate resources to the largest number of patients in need.
- Tele-behavioral health consultation services: When patients and providers in emergency departments, primary care clinics or inpatient hospitals need consultations with a psychiatrist, UCHealth’s Virtual Health Center will provide the video connection.
- A new inpatient behavioral health unit: The expansion of University of Colorado Hospital will enable a new inpatient behavioral health unit, likely opening in late 2023, to expand the services already available in other UCHealth locations.
“Attending to our patients’ behavioral health needs in a timely manner is critical to their overall health and well-being. This comprehensive approach to mental health and substance abuse treatment has the potential to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Coloradans,” said Dr. Neill Epperson, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We know that 20% to 40% of primary care patients have a behavioral health need. By embedding services within primary care locations, we can treat these needs in a cost-efficient manner while still providing an expert psychiatrist for patients who need a specialist.”
UCHealth’s focus on behavioral health will provide earlier detection and treatment for patients with substance use and mood disorders, access to new addiction treatment services, and will remove barriers by providing the right care at the right time.
“I applaud UCHealth and their significant investment which will provide increased access to substance abuse treatment and behavioral health services for everyone in our community and across the state,” said Colorado Representative Jason Crow, Congressional District 6. “To fully address the needs of Coloradans, we need to work together to integrate mental health in primary care for all families. I will continue to work in Congress and urge other organizations, including health insurance companies, to ensure that mental and behavioral health services are accessible and covered at parity with all other services.”
One of the first aspects of the initiative will be a tele-psychiatry pilot program that will roll out over the next six months in the emergency departments at Longs Peak Hospital in Longmont, Broomfield Hospital, Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs and University of Colorado Hospital. The program will enable a psychiatrist to virtually care for patients alongside an emergency physician and social worker.
“UCHealth has been providing behavioral health services in a number of facilities and in collaboration with community partners throughout northern Colorado for years,” said Kevin Unger, president and CEO of UCHealth Medical Center of the Rockies and Poudre Valley Hospital. “This initiative will enable us to dramatically help so many more people within this underserved population.”
To increase the impact and number of people to benefit from the behavioral health initiative, UCHealth will provide an additional $25 million in dollar-for-dollar matches to any philanthropic donations to UCHealth to support the efforts. Donors may direct their funds to a specific need, program or location – for example, residential substance abuse treatment in metro Denver, suicide prevention in southern Colorado or telepsychiatry to promote access to care across the state.
These efforts will complement and increase UCHealth’s current behavioral health services which include outpatient and inpatient psychiatric and substance abuse treatment, suicide prevention efforts, emergency department services, and several patient-centered medical homes that already embed behavioral health services in primary care clinics.
Colorado’s need for behavioral health is great:
- An estimated 832,000 adults in Colorado have a mental health need, and more than half of those are not receiving treatment according to Mental Health America.
- In 2017, a Colorado Health Access Survey indicated 67,000 Coloradans needed access to substance abuse treatment.
- In 2017, 1,175 Coloradans died by suicide according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
- In 2017, a Colorado Health Access Survey showed 11.8 percent of Coloradans said they had poor mental health, and 39% of those in poor mental health also reported poor physical health.
Support for behavioral health care
U.S. Senator Cory Gardner:
“I hear from my constituents every day about families who are unnecessarily suffering because they do not have access to mental health treatment. With rising suicide rates and a growing shortage of mental health providers, we are facing a mental health crisis. I commend UCHealth for taking substantial action to expand behavioral health care services and make mental health care more accessible. All Coloradans deserve access to health care services regardless of which corner of the state they are from, and telehealth plays a critical role in bridging the rural-urban health care divide. I look forward to continuing to work with UCHealth to support behavioral health care and telehealth services at the federal level.”
U.S. Representative Diana DeGette, Congressional District 1:
“We need all hands on deck to ensure that any Coloradan who needs mental health care is able to receive the treatment they need. Having facilities like UCHealth taking it upon themselves to ensure these services are available to more Coloradans who need them is invaluable for our community.”
Aurora Mayor Bob LeGare:
“In the city of Aurora our police and fire departments have noted firsthand the growing need for mental health services in our city. This proactive investment by UCHealth and philanthropic donors will make a substantial positive difference in the lives of all Colorado residents.”
Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers:
“I applaud UCHealth for taking a leadership role in the vital area of mental health care, which touches all segments of our community. The impact of mental health services can be life-altering, and I am pleased to see yet another positive development in the excellent health care community here in Colorado Springs.”
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock:
“We’re committed to shattering the stigma of behavioral health with a community response that fortifies our collective efforts and meets our struggling residents where they are, and this approach to behavioral health – providing services within patients’ primary care offices – helps ensure equity in access while treating conditions in a positive, comprehensive way. UCHealth is addressing needs proactively, before our residents face a mental health crisis, and that means less reliance on emergency services and lower overall costs for patients and our communities.”
Vincent Atchity, president and CEO of Mental Health Colorado:
“There is no health that is more important than mental health. In Colorado’s own experience, as well as other states, we’ve seen that proper treatment and support improve outcomes and lower the demand on hospitals, emergency rooms, and the criminal justice system. UCHealth’s initiative should stand as a challenge to our state’s other major health care systems. If they all stepped up with the same level of investment, Colorado would take giant steps toward mental wellness.”
Joel Yuhas, president and CEO of UCHealth Memorial Hospital:
“Our comprehensive plan will provide earlier detection and treatment by placing a focus on our primary care clinics. There, licensed clinical social workers and psychologists will become part of the primary care team, working with physicians, nurse practitioners and others to provide immediate resources to patients in need. We know the need for behavioral health services is great in the Pikes Peak region and all of southern Colorado, and we are excited to be able to further fulfill our mission of improving lives.”