VAIL — Jules Rosen has worked at his new job just a few weeks, but he knows the job is a big one.
Rosen is the new chief medical officer for Colorado West Regional Mental Health. A former professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Rosen said he and his wife came to the mountains full-time after buying a condo in Summit County a few years ago.
“I decided there’s life after academia,” he said.
Rosen’s new job is with an organization that has a new name. After about 40 years, Colorado West is in the midst of a name change — to Mind Springs Health.
The new name is part of an ambitious evolution for the group, led for the last five years by CEO Sharon Raggio. In that time the group has improved access to treatment, increased the amount of charity work it does and for the last two years, has led surveys of state mental health facilities that measure the effectiveness of treatment.
Focusing on mental illness
With Rosen on the job, Mind Springs is set to evolve more still. Rosen’s specialty is geriatric psychiatry, and he said he hopes to expand Mind Springs’ reach to people by working with medical providers. He also said he wants to train staff in clinics and nursing homes to recognize signs of mental illness in older people.
Many times, people in nursing homes or emergency rooms don’t know how to treat older patients with mental problems. And, he added, not everyone who is confused or agitated is showing signs of dementia.
Besides working with older people, Rosen said Mind Springs hopes to put more emphasis on suicide prevention. The suicide rate on the Western Slope is triple the national average — roughly 30 out of every 100,000 people, Rosen said.
“If you had that rate of murder, it would be in all the headlines,” Rosen said. “It’s really a silent epidemic.”
Rosen said people who attempt, or commit, suicide, often have treatable conditions.
“That’s where access comes in,” he said.
During her presentation, Raggio talked about access to treatment, saying that a person can see a professional within 24 hours at any of the organization’s clinics.
After that initial meeting, though, follow-up treatment can be tough, especially for a patient who needs to be hospitalized.
Raggio said Mind Springs is currently in the running for a state grant to expand its hospital in Grand Junction — the only dedicated psychiatric hospital between Denver and Salt Lake City.
That hospital turns away an average of 10 patients a day — there simply aren’t enough beds. That’s why Mind Springs is also working on a program of “respite” care, which will allow Mind Springs professionals to go to a home to watch over someone having a mental health crisis.
All of that focus is intended to save lives, Raggio said.
“It’s just not acceptable to have the highest suicide rate in the country,” she said.
Molly Fiore, the new executive director of Speak Up Reach out, a program focused on suicide prevention in local schools, listened closely to Raggio’s presentation and was encouraged by much of what she heard.
Fiore is also new to her job, but points with pride to Speak Up Reach Out’s work so far, which has resulted in fewer teen suicide attempts in valley schools.
“I think there’s a greater opportunity here,” she said. “I’d be excited to collaborate with them.”
Fiore said she was particularly eager to learn more about the respite care plan and how her group can help.
“Our missions align pretty closely,” Fiore said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and firstname.lastname@example.org.