By: The Daily Sentinel

Dec. 4, 2018

With the opening of an expanded in-patient psychiatric care facility in Grand Junction that will double its capacity to serve patients, the Western Slope is making its biggest gain yet in fixing an imbalance of health-care services.

The Grand Valley has an impressive history of collaboration to improve access to primary and specialty care. That’s great for keeping people physically healthy. But the valley didn’t even have a psychiatric hospital in western Colorado before Mind Springs opened West Springs Hospital in 2006.

In just over a decade, it became clear that the hospital needed to expand. As the Sentinel’s Joe Vaccarelli reported in Sunday’s paper, about four years ago waiting lists of up to 20 people started to develop, leaving those in psychiatric crisis in limbo.

It’s not just a Western Slope issue. According to Mental Health Colorado, more than a million Coloradans face a mental health or substance use disorder, but only half get the care they need. The consequences can be catastrophic: crowded emergency rooms and jail cells, increased unemployment and homelessness, and one of the highest suicide rates in the nation.

A new national report ranks Colorado among the worst states in the nation in the prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders. The report by Mental Health America lists Colorado at 43rd overall with the third-highest rate of alcohol dependence among adults and the fourth-highest percentage of youth with major depression.

West Springs Hospital will start to move patients into its new $34 million facility Dec. 11 after a multiyear effort, during which the organization raised about half of the money needed through public and private donations and grants. Several counties pitched in. Mesa County, sadly, wasn’t among them even though about 50 percent of the hospital’s patients live here.

The hospital is the only one between Denver and Salt Lake City, so it serves the entire Western Slope and even parts of eastern Utah. It took a long time to get this state-of-the art facility, but Mind Springs took great care to make employee and patient safety a priority.

Public tours will be available from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesday for anyone who wishes to see the building, 515 28 3/4 Road. For many of us, it’ll be the only such opportunity. Those in crisis who will land there by choice or by court order will find a bright, friendly place that purposely tries to minimize the institutional feel of a psychiatric ward.

The expanded hospital will have a significant economic impact via jobs and tax revenue. More importantly, it’ll provide much-needed care and alleviate the stress that these patients would otherwise put on area hospitals and law enforcement.

This is a terrific development for the community. Now if we could just get insurance companies to cover these stays as well as they cover visits to hospitals for physical issues. That’s changing, too. This year Mental Health Colorado persuaded the Legislature to create a state mental health ombudsman. This office will help Coloradans access mental health and substance use services, whether they have public insurance, private insurance, or no insurance at all.

Originally appeared in the Daily Sentinel.