Boulder County study identifies mental health service gaps, barriers

Boulder County residents needing mental health and substance abuse treatment services face gaps in, and barriers of access to, available services, according to a recently released county report.

That Community of Hope Mental Health Community Assessment cited such problems as difficulties in getting access to services in a timely manner, the high costs of some services, a growing paucity in the county’s behavioral science work force, limited prevention and early detection and intervention services, a scarcity of trained mental health providers in the schools, and a lack of early childhood mental health programs.

The study, produced by a coalition of organizations that included Boulder County Public Health, the county Housing and Human Services Department and the county Community Services Department, recommended ways be found to improve timeliness and ease of access to mental health services and substance abuse prevention and treatment.

Other areas needing focus, the report said, included the need to increase early detection of mental health and substance abuse problems, a reduction in “inappropriate incarceration” of people with those problems, and an increase in the overall availability and range of services.

The study “confirms much of what we know,” said Kelly Phillips-Henry, the chief executive officer of Mental Health Partners, a nonprofit agency that is the county’s largest provider of mental health and substance abuse treatment.

“As a community, we need to get more mental health services to more people earlier in their need,” Phillips-Henry said in a Boulder County news release about the study.

“Timely access to care is so crucial,” she said, “and it will take the entire provider community — public, private and nonprofit — working together if we are to address this successfully.”

According to the study, 95 percent of the people responding to one online survey of Boulder County residents last year reported that they or someone they know had struggled with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Boulder County Public Health Director Jeff Zayach said the study and its recommendations “will be very helpful for all of us as we work to make it easier for Boulder County residents to get the right help when they need it.”

Summer Laws, a Boulder County Public Health planner, said that more than 20 government agencies, service clubs, nonprofit organizations and health care providers and other groups have identified mental health as a priority for their attention and have begun considering ways they might help address the gaps and barriers identified in the study.

Laws said the study’s authors want the community to know “that they were heard” and that those agencies and organizations are committed to start taking immediate action to close those gaps and eliminate or reduce the barriers.

John Fryar: 303-684-5211, or

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