Eagle County pledges $500,000 to jump start mental health services; Mental Health Advisory Committee named | VailDaily.com

Eagle County pledges $500,000 to jump start mental health services; Mental Health Advisory Committee named

Medecine concept - Blackboard with text "Mental health" and stethoscope on blue wooden background

EAGLE — Just one year ago, Eagle resident Agnes Harakal was so frustrated by the lack of available local services and the continuing stigma associated with mental illness, she vowed to change things.

As a family, the Harakals have struggled for years to help their son, who has been diagnosed as bipolar. Agnes said she just wanted to change peoples' minds — to make them understand that mental illness was nothing to be ashamed of. She grappled with the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment, noting if people aren't ashamed of getting treatment for cancer or diabetes, then why should they be ashamed of getting help for depression or bipolar disorder?

As she embarked on her mission, Harakal helped organize a group called Changing Minds, which then participated in a parade down Broadway Street in Eagle. Changing Minds began calling on local governments to address the mental health issue, inspired by the efforts of the Total Health Alliance, which has been working to expand local health services for several years.

Today, the Total Health Alliance represents more than 35 agencies and includes more than 100 professionals and community advocates. There is robust discussion around the need for local mental health services. And, most importantly, today, provision of local mental health services is becoming reality.

“Increasing our mental health resources must be viewed as a community priority.”Kathy Chandler-HenryEagle County commissioner

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Seed money

In response to a growing urgency for mental health resources, this week the Eagle County Board of Commissioners agreed to immediately earmark $500,000 toward addressing the community's most pressing mental health needs.

The one-time contribution will jump-start a new mental health program that has received the support of the county's voters. In 2017, voters approved new sales and excise taxes of up to 5 percent on recreational marijuana, establishing the county's mental health fund for the purpose of providing mental health and substance abuse services. The taxes are projected to eventually generate approximately $1.2 million annually, once the full rate is implemented. However, at the current rate of 2.5 percent, collections in 2018 are expected to total about $500,000. While that money will eventually be available for programs, it will take months to build up the coffers, and county officials decided the community's need is more immediate.

"We view this one-time contribution as a critical investment that can't be delayed," Jeanne McQueeney, Eagle County commissioner, said.

The county isn't the only entity interested in providing the seed money for new mental health programs. Eagle County Paramedic Services has announced it will provide $100,000 in startup funds.

"We are inviting our partners to join with us in making a difference as quickly as possible," Kathy Chandler-Henry, Eagle County commissioner,said. "Increasing our mental health resources must be viewed as a community priority."

Once it is collected, where will the money to go? That hasn't been decided yet, but the Eagle County commissioners will get some solid advice on the subject from its recently appointed Mental Health Advisory Committee.

Focused effort

Last week, the commissioners appointed 10 members to the newly formed advisory committee. The committee is tasked with prioritizing programs and services to be funded through the county's voter-approved mental health fund, as well as other sources.

Members of the committee represent health care and mental health care providers, law enforcement personnel and community advocates across both the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys.

Not surprisingly, Harakal is one of the inaugural members.

"I think people know I have no agenda other than wanting things to be better for families," she said.

Harakal is particularly encouraged by the county's discussions with the Aspen Hope Center — a program from the Roaring Fork Valley that provides crisis clinician screenings for 911 or suicide hotline calls. The program then brings help directly to the caller, at his or her home. The program also connects patients with local counselors for long-term help.

"That is an amazing service for mental health patients," Harakal said.

Harakal is also thrilled by the work of the Total Health Alliance.

"We got everyone in the same room, together, to discuss the issue. That is an amazing plus. Before this, everyone stuck to their own corners," she said. "I am just doing a happy dance about how far we have come in a year. It's been an amazing journey."

In many ways, it's a journey that is just beginning.

"We want to thank these folks (the Mental Health Advisory Committee members) for sharing their time and expertise," Chandler-Henry said. "They will help ensure we meet our community's most critical mental health needs in the most effective ways possible."

Eagle County Mental Health Advisory Board

All appointments for the new Eagle County Mental Health Advisory Committee begin on Friday, June 1. Following the expiration of the one- and two-year terms, subsequent members will serve three years, to allow for staggered appointments.

The following community members have been appointed to the county’s newly formed committee:

Members appointed for three-year terms:

• Michael Holton — Vail Health

• Greg Daly — Avon Police

• Christopher Montera — Eagle County Paramedic Services

• Agnes Harakal — community member

Members appointed to two-year terms:

• Gary Schreiner — Mountain Family Health Center/Roaring Fork Valley

• Jackie Skramstad — Mind Springs

• Michelle Muething — Hope Center

Members appointed to one-year terms:

• Jeannine Benson — Kaiser Permanente

• Stacey Gavrell — Valley View Hospital

• Carol Hawk — Roaring Fork Valley community member

For more information, contact Eagle County Public Health Director Chris Lindley at 970-328-8819.