Spotlight on mental health in GJ, county

By: Joe Vaccarelli

March 10, 2019

Spotlight on mental health in GJ, county


Mental Health Colorado interim President and CEO Nancy VanDeMark has lofty goals for this legislative session and hopes to see several programs better funded this year.

Concerned about the escalating suicide rate in the state, particularly in Mesa County, Mental Health Colorado is pushing for more funding for programs such as Zero Suicide and an effort to bring more health professionals into schools.

“The ratio is far below national recommendations,” VanDeMark said of the number of health professionals in schools during a visit to The Daily Sentinel. VanDeMark took over as interim president and CEO last month and visited Grand Junction last week to participate in discussions on regional Medicaid and tour some local mental health facilities. Mental Health Colorado was founded in 1953.

During the current legislative session, her organization is actively lobbying for $860,000 to go into the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s budget to fund Zero Suicide programming.

Zero Suicide is an initiative to improve suicide and behavioral health care. VanDeMark said the program has shown to be 80 percent effective in reducing suicide in organizations that use Zero Suicide. In 2017, the Colorado Legislature passed a bill encouraging mental health organizations to use Zero Suicide practices, but VanDeMark says there is a need for more funding.

Mental Health Colorado is also pushing for $3 million in marijuana tax funds to go toward grant programs for the Colorado Department of Education to boost the number of health professionals in schools. These professionals could be versed in either physical or mental health.

Budgets should be finalized in the coming weeks.

The organization is also in support of one bill that would increase behavioral health support and another that would create a protection order to remove firearms from the homes of someone in a mental health crisis.

“People’s lives are saved when you remove a weapon from someone in crisis,” she said.

Some local law enforcement officials, including Mesa County Sheriff Matt Lewis and Delta County Sheriff Mark Taylor, have opposed the protection order legislation, which has also been referred to as the “Red Flag bill.” Taylor said in a letter that he feels the bill is overreaching and could be abused by citizens and law enforcement.

VanDeMark feels Colorado’s new governor and turnover in the state House and Senate provides opportunities to advance mental health care efforts.

“It’s an exciting time and an opportunity to start at the ground level,” she said. “People still face a stigma when accessing mental health care and substance abuse care.”

VanDeMark also spoke about the new West Springs Hospital, which opened late last year in Grand Junction and doubled the capacity of the facility. She said adding beds is a good thing, not just for Grand Junction, but all of western Colorado.

“It’s a huge opportunity for community to have more psychiatric beds,” she said. “Seamless response is one of the most important issues we face. Having psych beds is a big step forward.”

Originally appeared on The Daily Sentinel.