Hope Center Eagle River Valley brings mental health help directly to people who need it | VailDaily.com

Hope Center Eagle River Valley brings mental health help directly to people who need it

Representatives from Hope Center Eagle River Valley and Eagle County Paramedic Services have worked together to build the new mental health emergency co-response model. Shown, from left to right are Kevin Creek, Jen Girard, Jane Brandes, Chris Montera, Pete Brandes, Amy Waldes and Marc Burdick

EAGLE — Until now, Eagle County emergency personnel who responded to local mental health calls had two choices for their patients.

They could take them to the emergency room, or they could take them to the jail.

But now there is a third option, thanks to the Hope Center Eagle River Valley. This option involves bringing mental health counseling services directly to patients, wherever they are.

Two weeks ago, local law enforcement agencies, fire departments and Eagle County Paramedic Services implemented the Hope Center's co-response model for patients experiencing mental health emergencies. Six residents have already received assistance.

In the field

Hope Center Eagle River Valley is an expansion of a program that has successfully operated in the Roaring Fork Valley for eight years. The center partners mental health professionals with law enforcement services in the field and then connects patients to community resources for follow-up care.

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Emergency responders in the Eagle River Valley now have the option of calling in a crisis team to the scene for situations where they feel their patient needs mental health assistance.

"What we are trying to do here is create a more appropriate response and disposition for people experiencing a mental health crisis," said Kevin Creek, community paramedic supervisor for Eagle County Paramedic Services. "Once we are there and the patient is being assisted by the Hope Center, we can check them out medically."

That means while a Hope Center counselor works to stabilize the patient's mental health crisis, paramedics can assess vital signs, get information about any medications the patient is taking and provide other medical assistance.

Ultimately, the co-response model has another benefit for the patient: It means he or she is directly involved in choices regarding care, something that is very important in the Hope Center response.

Patient safety

The previous model for mental health emergency response — which involved transport to the emergency room or the jail — wasn't designed to be heavy handed. It was designed to ensure patient safety.

"In the past, those were the only options to get someone someplace safe," Creek said. "Our goal is to not only make sure the patient is coming out of crisis, but is also safe."

Under the right circumstances, the Hope Center model has demonstrated that staying at home can be safe. By responding to the scene when emergency services are called, counselors can work with a patient and reach out to his or her support network. The result is a stabilized situation that didn't include ambulance transport.

"For the most part, the people we work with may have been hospitalized previously. But if we can get them stable at home, all the better," said Jen Girard, Hope Center Eagle Valley director.

The moment of crisis is just the start of a long-term relationship with the program, Girard said. After the crisis has passed, the Hope Center remains in the patient's life — connecting him or her with the appropriate community resources to help address long-term needs.

'Just Getting Started'

While the new co-response program has just started, Creek said local paramedics are embracing the option.

"Obviously, we know we have had a problem in Eagle County for a long time with the lack of mental health resources," Creek said.

Only two weeks into the new model, Creek said crews are already giving positive feedback.

"It is especially good for the family members and friends of the people who are in crisis," he said.

In the weeks and months ahead, the Hope Center Eagle Valley will refine its program in response to what counselors and emergency workers encounter in the field.

"We are just getting started. I can't imagine what we will have to say in six months about this program," Girard said.

If you need help …

If you or someone you know is experiencing a physical or mental emergency, as always, call 911.

If you are concerned about mental health issues concerning yourself or someone you know, call the local Hope Center Eagle River Valley hotline at 970-306-HOPE (4673).

For additional information about the Hope Center Eagle River Valley, email admineagle@ourhopecenter.org or kcreek@ecparamedics.com.