Edwards neighbors don’t debate need for new behavioral health facility
But noting they were unprepared for the application, nearby residents say they simply can’t offer comment yet about Vail Heath’s plan for their community
The first sentence of Vail Health’s land-use application to Eagle County for its proposed Northstar Center — a new behavioral health facility proposed in Edwards — is short and pointed.
“This proposal is about one thing — addressing a community need,” reads the document’s introduction.
Last week, Vail Health announced it was submitting its application for the center, proposed at a 4.9-acre site at the southeast corner of the Edwards Interstate 70 interchange. The site is the former location of Northstar Lumber and currently includes a variety of business tenants as well as a number of vacant spaces. Vail Health’s application for the site is now available on line at eaglecounty.us/planning/activelanduseapplications.
Vail Health says its vision for the site includes a comprehensive behavioral heath campus.
“The centrally-located campus will include a new 14-bed inpatient cross-functional behavioral health facility serving both adolescents and adults, a specialty behavioral health clinic providing outpatient services — including intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programming for mood and anxiety disorders — as well as substance abuse and recovery services,” states the application materials.
“The need for a behavioral health facility in Eagle County is acute,” the application continues. “Following years of increased emergency room visits for anxiety and depression, and a spike in suicide rates from six to 16 in 2017, it is clear that community collaboration is crucial to address the behavioral health crisis.”
The behavioral heath center would be a new 40,000-square-foot building constructed in the area that is now a large surface parking lot located between two existing buildings at the site. Existing buildings have been earmarked as future offices for Vail Health departments as well as future medical uses.
“Vail Health is making a major investment in the Northstar Center with the development of the new behavioral health building. With behavioral health as the anchor, Vail Health envisions Northstar Center becoming a significant health care campus for the Eagle River Valley,” notes the project application.
Not debating the need
When they learned about the application last week, a number of Edwards residents said the Vail Health announcement was the first time they had heard about plans for a behavioral health facility in their neighborhood.
“I think the community is going to be really surprised,” said resident Johanna Kerwin. “I just don’t have enough information yet about his project to make a comment.”
Edwards resident Don Welch also stated the Vail Health announcement caught him unaware. “I am surprised that Vail Health didn’t let the community know through some sort of community meeting. I think the newspaper article was the first time anyone in Edwards heard about this proposal,” he said.
While they digest the project particulars and consider the proposed location, the residents who spoke about the application all voiced support for Vail Health’s work to expand behavioral health programs.
“We absolutely need facilities in our community for mental health,” Kerwin said.
“I am 100% supportive of mental health initiatives. It is a critical need and we need to be putting our foot on the gas pedal,” said Kara Heide, a resident of Old Edwards Estates, the residential subdivision located adjacent to the Northstar Center.
Heide noted that the detox component of Vail Health’s plan may be a concern. She said that alternatively, a detox facility located at the Eagle County Jail site would be a better choice.
“The Chambers Avenue location is ideal for the community because it is in a commercial area,” she said. “This location (the Northstar Center) is a stone’s throw from an area that is 100% residential with families and a lot of children.”
Heide said if the detox plan proceeds, Vail Health needs to enforce protocols for the facility to ensure the safety of patients and neighbors alike.
“We all appreciate the current Vail Health medical protocols for everything from getting a knee replacement to a colonoscopy that say the patient, for his or her safety and for everyone else’s safety, is not allowed to be released unless they have a responsible adult with them,” said Heide. “I would appreciate, at a minimum, that protocol when releasing anyone who was in the detox center.”
Welch cited one particular point from the Vail Health announcement of its Northstar Center proposal. In that announcement, the hospital stated its application will conform with the Edwards Area Community Plan.
“That is a good thing,” Welch said. “We all know there is a huge need for mental health care. I think this proposal should sail through.”
According to Eagle County Community Development Director Morgan Beryl, the Northstar Center application will be sent out Friday, May 7, for referral agency comments. Those comments will become part of the staff review for the application and that official review must be competed before the proposal goes to the Eagle County Planning Commission. There is no anticipated schedule yet for when the Northstar Center public hearings will launch.
“We are still early in the process. We really don’t have much information yet about potential issues,” Beryl stated.