Delta County Memorial Hospital has established a behavioral health program for both the hospital and its four primary care clinics.
Program director Becky Ela, a licensed clinical social worker, provided an update on the hospital's efforts at the Oct. 27 quarterly meeting of county and city officials at the Technical College of the Rockies.
Two noteworthy trends are driving the hospital's decision to dedicate resources to behavioral health. First, Ela said, anxiety, depression and substance abuse have been identified in more than half the patients seeking primary care. Second, in 2016, the number of mental health/substance abuse cases outpaced the level of trauma seen by emergency room personnel. Without any medical issues that require treatment, a patient may nonetheless be hospitalized for three, four or even five days until a bed can be located in a mental health facility. "Our goal is to decrease emergency room usage," she said.
Previous use of the jail to house mentally ill patients awaiting transport has been prohibited by the state Legislature, unless criminal charges have been filed against the individual being held.
Commander Jesse Cox, Delta Police Department, commended the hospital for taking a huge burden off law enforcement. He mentioned the need for additional training to help officers determine whether a contact is being intentionally uncooperative or combative, or whether that individual is suffering some type of mental health crisis.
Robin Slater, Center for Mental Health, explained plans for a crisis clinic in Montrose that will fill a desperate need by providing a safe place for those requiring crisis stabilization. In addition, the Center for Mental Health is establishing mobile crisis response teams to cover the 10,000 square miles encompassing the six counties served by the center.
A co-responder program will place a behavior health specialist in law enforcement agencies, to partner with officers responding to situations indicative of a behavioral health crisis. The Delta County Sheriff's Office has agreed to participate in the pilot.
With the expansion of services in Montrose, fewer patients will require transport to Front Range facilities. In addition, Slater said the Center for Mental Health is seeking a grant to assist with patient transport.
Transport of individuals experiencing a mental health crisis has affected every law enforcement agency in the county. Cedaredge Mayor Gene Welch and Paonia Mayor Charles Stewart said transport requires taking an officer from their small departments off the street. Undersheriff Mark Taylor said transport can sometime require two officers, if the individual is deemed a threat to himself or others.
Growing concern for the uptick in behavioral health issues has previously brought together representatives from the hospital, law enforcement, the Center for Mental Health and other organizations serving families and children in Delta County.
"These mental health issues are not unique to Delta County," said hospital CEO Jason Cleckler. "What is truly different is that we've all come together to figure out what we can do to help people in crisis."
A collaborative effort between the Delta County Sheriff's Office and municipal law enforcement agencies throughout Delta County has resulted in a proposal for a 1 percent sales tax increase to fund public safety. A PowerPoint presentation titled "Back the Badge" is starting to make the rounds at city/town council meetings, service club luncheons and other events.