Health Care & Insurance  August 9, 2021

Pandemic, shootings spike mental-health need

It has been a hard year.

Due in part to the pandemic and, in Colorado and other places, mass shootings have helped to cause suicidal ideation to rise. Depression in many people has either increased or set in.  Alcohol and illegal drug use has risen. Those who were already abusing prescription drugs either increased their use or started with worse drugs. The isolation even drove those who have never been abusers to begin using either out of boredom, loneliness or depression. According to hospital system UCHealth, 380,000 Coloradans are not getting the mental health care they need.

It has been a hard year.

Because of the growing numbers of people in Colorado needing added mental health services, programs with new funding are being added to help serve and meet that extra need for mental health therapies and a growing shortage of professionals.

Among the most ambitious of the new plans to increase mental health availability is a $100 million commitment from UCHealth, and a new taxpayer supported facility for Larimer County that is scheduled to open in 2023 on land between Loveland and Fort Collins. 

Nathan Groathouse, director of marketing and development at SummitStone Health Partners in Northern Colorado, cites a Kaiser Foundation report that backs up the call for added services. 

“Research done by Kaiser in 2018 showed we would have a half-a-million clinician shortfall by 2025. That was before the pandemic, so it’s looking even more dire now,” said Groathouse.

Although somewhat of a concern, SummitStone opened a new residential facility, called the Garcia House, in Fort Collins in January and is working with Larimer County to assist with the completion of the county facility.

He explained how the pandemic forced mental health providers to accelerate innovation to help clients.

“When COVID hit, SummitStone Health was online within three days offering virtual visits so clients wouldn’t be impacted. Now that the virus isn’t quite as rampant, some clients still prefer the virtual visit. We are going to keep it for them; it makes sense,” he said.

Although the federal government is pumping millions of dollars into a number of states, Groathouse explained that isn’t just free money.

“There are a great variety of grants out there in the universe, but they just don’t give you money,” he said. “There are a great many restrictions and provisions that must be met, so it handcuffs us as to what we can do with the money.”

Money with fewer restrictions must come from private donations, municipalities or commitments from providers such as  SummitStone.

Likewise, UCHealth’s commitment of money to be used for mental health programs is meant to quickly address the heavier caseload for mental health services across the state.

Paula Freund, public relations manager at UCHealth, said the hospital system is not building new facilities but is adding and expanding services.

“We really aren’t building; right now UCHealth is committing $100 million into new programs and innovative systems to deliver quality health care across the state,” she said.

Rachel Slick, a licensed clinical social worker for UCHealth in Greeley, describes one of UCHealth’s more ambitious new programs.

UCHealth is integrating mental health into already established health-care facilities, mostly hospitals, to serve patients more expediently and conveniently.

“There’s also an added component to this program. Although the stigma of needing mental-health care is dissipating, there are still a lot of people who either don’t know where to go or feel uncomfortable seeking out care,” Slick said.

“Being in a traditional hospital setting both simplifies the search for mental-health care and takes some of the stigma out of the process. We are aiming for the integration to become a part of their holistic well-being. ”

She added that the idea is to have child and adult mental health available side-by-side to primary care for immediacy and convenience. The clinicians will work hand in hand with primary care professionals to give more immediate care if a client is in an emergency situation. Clinicians are also being dispatched alongside police in some municipalities in Colorado to handle calls where a mental-health professional presence may be appropriate.

Asked if the pandemic has made a big difference in clients’ mental health, Slick is quick to answer in a definite affirmative.

“Short answer is ‘yes.’ Not only has it created many new challenges in people’s lives, it has exacerbated old challenges. Many clients now also prefer virtual visits, and there’s less stigma attached. Virtual visits have been so popular, they have expanded the need for more clinicians,” said Slick.

UCHealth has committed to add the integrated mental-health services in 60 of its primary care facilities within months, not years. This is due in part to a UCHealth survey that found half of Coloradans surveyed experienced mental health strain because of the virus.

The pandemic was not the only thing to bring stressors to Coloradans. Beside shootings statewide, a mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Sooper’s in Boulder garnered attention nationwide and unleashed anxieties around the state.

Mental Health Partners of Boulder County and The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR), parent company of King Sooper’s, set up a “Boulder Strong” Resource Center after the shooting on March 22.

The clinic was set up to address mental-health challenges experienced by associates and shoppers who were at the King Sooper’s on the day of the shooting, families of the deceased, people working at the Table Mesa Shopping Center that day, first responders, neighbors in the south Boulder region and the broader Boulder community.

The center, which originally was at the First Bank building at the Table Mesa center, has moved to 2935 Baseline Road; it offers a multitude of services including walk-in crises services, resiliency training, moving beyond trauma therapy and individual therapy.

Individual therapy was scheduled to discontinue on Aug. 1. It is not known what clients should do after that date and calls to Kroger and Mental Health Partners were not returned.

It has been a hard year.

Due in part to the pandemic and, in Colorado and other places, mass shootings have helped to cause suicidal ideation to rise. Depression in many people has either increased or set in.  Alcohol and illegal drug use has risen. Those who were already abusing prescription drugs either increased their use or started with worse drugs. The isolation even drove those who have never been abusers to begin using either out of boredom, loneliness or depression. According to hospital system UCHealth, 380,000 Coloradans are not getting the mental health care they need.

It has been a hard…

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